Ethiopia, which almost by stealth climbed to the top of the economic growth list in Africa, announced yesterday that is has added a new feather to its national hat when a brand new commuter rail network was launched in the capital of Addis Ababa. Nearly 50 towns in Ethiopia will be linked by rail, aimed to spur additional economic growth by supporting agriculture and mining, as well as tourism with safe transportation of goods and people.

The cost of the new metropolitan rail network was given as US$740 million, and to a significant extent was funded and built by Chinese contractors over the past few years. According to information received from Addis, the trains will run for 16 hours every day, providing tens of thousands of Ethiopians with affordable and safe means of commuting from their places of residence into the center and the industrial areas of Addis Ababa.

In fact, rail transport has been pushed by the government in Ethiopia to the top of the transport agenda, and while highways are also being constructed – a major new axis from Addis to Nairobi is now ready apart from a relatively small section in the Marsabit area of Kenya – rail tracks are being laid across the entire country to link the rural areas of Ethiopia with the capital Addis Ababa.

In part, such plans will also extend to Kenya where the LAPSSET project intends to link Addis Ababa with the new port of Lamu by standard gauge railway and a highway link from Isiolo to the coast.

There are lessons to be drawn from this development in Ethiopia for much of the rest of Africa - that action is the key to development. Ethiopia clearly has shown how it can and should be done, to the extent that even rail-wagons are being assembled in Addis Ababa and not imported as seen in many other parts of Africa.