A Bumpy Legacy

A Bumpy Legacy — 13 unlucky tidbits about the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railroad
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— On this date on November 12, 1959, a revised Treaty between Ethiopia and France over the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railroad was considered very favorable to Ethiopian interests. The origins of the railroad date back to 1894 when the semi-private firm The Imperial …

Railroad Company of Ethiopia was launched, with the backing of the late Emperor Menelik, to build the Addis Ababa – Djibouti railroad. Construction began in 1897 and after several major setbacks—and one world war— the railroad was completed after twenty years in 1917. The legacy of the railroad has not always been so smooth or favorable. It has also been quite tragic. Here are some 13 unpleasant tidbits about the legacy of Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railroad. — The Associated Press reported on August 2, 1935 that two Italian subjects evacuating Ethiopia were killed in a train derailment caused by an “unexplained wreck”—sabotaged by stones. The AP reported also that Emperor Haile Selassie was taking on “emergency precautionary measures” to keep the “Addis-Abeba-Djbouti railway line open” amid a pending Italian invasion. — The Associated Press reported on October 5, 1935 that “fierce fighting now under way in the Mount Mussa Ali sector, where the railroad to Jibuti, Ethiopia’s real link with the outside world, is at stake.” — On April 27, 1936 the New York Times reported that France was unwilling to allow Ethiopia to use the railroad to import vital supplies to defend herself— a decision to eliminate risk of the railroad becoming a military target. — On May 5, 1936 the Associated Press reported that the Ethiopian Royal family had boarded its train in Dire Dawa to Djibouti–beginning an uncertain life in exile. — During the Italian occupation, the Associated Press reported on November 24, 1936 that Italian engineers announced plans to expand the Addis Ababa – Djibouti railroad to include tracks to Mogadistu, Massawa, Assab, and Asmara. Such plans were obviously scraped. The Associated Press also reported on January 7.1939 that Italy had ordered its citizens to boycott using the French railroad in an attempt to weaken its French influence. — On August 28, 1949, the New York Times reported that Emperor Haile Selassie had ordered the hanging of “leaders of 600 railway men” that lead a destructive protest during a union dispute. — Train service between Addis-Ababa and Djibouti was briefly suspended during the 1977-78 Ogaden conflict. — On November 1, 1979 one of it’s passenger trains derailed some 44 miles south of the Djibouti capital killing 50 passengers and injuring 30 others. There was immediate speculation that sabotage was the cause. — Train services were brought to a halt again on January 21, 1984 after suspected Somali-backed rebels ambushed two trains, killing 29 passengers and injuring over a hundred others.. The Associated Press reported the first attack was carried out on January 19 and a second on January 21. — On January 14, 1985 the Associated Press reported that on this date the railroad was the scene of Africa’s worse train disaster when four train carriages derailed near Awash, plunging off a 40 foot bridge killing at least 392 and injuring almost the rest of the total 1,000 passengers on board. Later accounts pushed the death toll to 418. Many of the victims, burned inside alive, were buried together in a communal grave, Red Cross officials later told reporters. The train was believed to have been traveling too fast while bending at a turn, causing the derailment. — On March 8, 1987 another derailment occurred some 35 miles outside the Djibouti capital, killing nine and injuring 36. Cause of the derailment was at time of press unknown. — On April 30, 1989, the Reuters News agency reported an another serious train accident that occurred when two trains collided in the town of Mieso, resulting in over 25 deaths and fifty injured. — In 2007, service between Addis Ababa to Dira Diwa was indefinitely suspended. In spite of its bumpy legacy, plans to modernize railroads in Ethiopia roll on) (Photo: The Old Railroad Yard in Dira Dawa)
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