Feature: Ethiopian, Djiboutian youth realize career dreams in Chinese-built railway

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by Xinhua writer Habtamu Worku

ADDIS ABABA, May 18 (Xinhua) -- Ubah Ismail Ahmed, a team leader at the Nagad railway station on the outskirts of Djibouti City, was fully immersed as she inspected train operations in the control room.

Ahmed describes herself as an embodiment of China's successful knowledge and skills transfer initiative, which has inspired local Ethiopian and Djiboutian youth to master the Chinese-built Ethiopia-Djibouti standard gauge railway.

"The first time we came here, we didn't know anything about the work. We were like students learning from the Chinese experts. Now, we work independently, making decisions on our own. Everything here is done by the local people," Ahmed told Xinhua.

Ahmed and her colleagues, who were previously unfamiliar with modern electrified railway operations, have undergone a transformative journey. Through rigorous theoretical and hands-on training under the guidance of Chinese experts, they have honed their skills.

Last week, after six years of seamless operations, the management and operation of the 752-km electrified transnational railway were officially handed over from Chinese contractors to Ethiopia and Djibouti, marking a significant milestone.

Since the railway operations began in January 2018, the capacity-building program has paved the way for the full localization of the workforce, employing more than 3,000 local staff. Official data shows that 2,840 people have been trained and certified in all aspects of railway professions, including operations, rolling stock, maintenance and safety management.

In addition to training local staff, the Chinese team has conducted leadership training for around 200 middle and senior management personnel and trained 100 local railway managers in China.

Yidnekachew Alemu, a team leader of railway captains, praised the training he received from Chinese experts, which enabled him to become one of the first licensed Ethiopian electrified train drivers.

"We underwent three years of intensive theoretical and practical training at home, followed by advanced training in China for eight months with simulation support. This training has been instrumental in our professional growth," Alemu told Xinhua.

A flagship project under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway stands as Africa's first electrified transboundary railway, symbolizing a new era of regional connectivity and progress.

Supported by successful capacity-building initiatives, the railway has transported 680,000 passengers and 9.5 million tons of cargo, with an average annual transportation revenue increase of 39 percent over the past six years.

Dejen Gezu, another licensed Ethiopian electrified train driver, has been tasked with safely operating the railway while mentoring aspiring young Ethiopians. "I was just a train driver trainee, and I was trained by the Chinese. Now, I am training other trainees. We can now teach ourselves with our own experts," Gezu said.

Reflecting on his early years of training under Chinese railway experts, Gezu proudly highlights the privilege of passing on his knowledge and skills, demonstrating self-sufficiency in railway expertise.

Abdi Zenebe, chief executive officer of the Ethio-Djibouti Railway Share Company, emphasized the importance of the skills transfer initiative. "The Chinese railway industry is well developed and one of the leading industries in the world. Partnering with such a capable and willing industry is critical," Zenebe said.

The railway has won plaudits from both countries, significantly reducing freight transportation time from over three days to less than 20 hours and cutting transportation costs by at least one-third.

Ethiopian Minister of Transport and Logistics Alemu Sime said that the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway plays a crucial role in supporting economic growth by connecting resources and fostering regional prosperity.

"This railway, a symbol of cooperation and progress, has been the engine of our economic development and regional integration. It has facilitated trade, encouraged cultural exchanges, and strengthened ties between our peoples," said Hassan Houmed, Djibouti's minister of infrastructure and equipment. Enditem

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