LANDLOCKED Ethiopia has launched plans for new rail links to ports on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, to reduce its dependence on the existing rail corridor to Djibouti. Details of the Railway Development Initiative were announced on January 9 by Transport & Communications Minister Dirrir Mohammed. Two routes are currently being studied for a 2400 km north - south line, which is estimated to cost about US$1·5bn.

The line would run from Moyale, on Ethiopia's southern border with Kenya, northwards for 650 km along the Rift Valley through Asela and Neghele to Nazaret, 110 km from Addis Abeba, where it would join the existing railway for 160 km to Awash. One option sees the new line running north-westwards for 460 km through Woldiya and Gondar to reach the Sudanese border at Metema. The other takes a more northerly route, serving Makele and Dalol in Tigre province.

Under the terms of a bilateral accord signed in Khartoum in March 2000, Sudan would construct a 160 km link from the border, allowing trains to join the existing SR route to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.

A further bilateral meeting is planned to discuss financing for the scheme, which the two governments hope can be raised through partnerships with local and foreign companies.

Mohammed says that future rail projects would include a 750 km link from Moyale to Mogadishu in Somalia, and a 600 km Kenya Railways connection from Moyale to Nairobi, allowing Ethiopia to route freight through the port of Mombasa. A third option is a 400 km branch from Dire Dawa to Berbera in the breakaway Northern Somalia.