They hope that the diesel train will be revived one day, but the European Commission-funded project to rehabilitate the old railway at a cost of US$55 million has stalled due to a contractual dispute.
Nonetheless, the 750 employees — down from 2,000 — of the old line maintain a sense of pride at having worked for the French.
“When you worked for the train, you were considered to be a very important person,” Josef said.
It brought many employees a sense of pride — in addition to a generous salary — to work for the French on a train that was conceived by Ethiopia’s first modern patriarch, Emperor Menelik II, who pursued the rail project to modernize Ethiopia and show the world “that the Ethiopian state was something to be considered seriously,” Fontaine said.
Similarly, the new electric train will launch Ethiopia into a modern era of rail transport. It will be one of the first electric trains in East Africa, will run at a speed of 120kph and will be both easier and cheaper to maintain, as it will be mechanized and rely on locally produced hydropower to run.
It is a also a source of pride for the workers involved in boosting development.
“It is good to be involved in this nationalistic project, it’s historic,” Zacharia said.
However, whether the legacy of the Chinese in Ethiopia will have as strong an imprint as the French remains to be seen.