On board the Addis Ababa Light Rail

Grab a ticket and lets go for a ride. Addis Ababa has a relatively new light rail system and it is a nice way to get around town.

The truth is that by the time I got to Addis Ababa I was exhausted. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise, given I slept three consecutive nights on planes to make the trip. But that, combined with some State Department warnings around leaving the city left me inclined for less than my normal levels of adventure. I wandered about the neighborhood where my transit hotel was (in retrospect I probably should’ve skipped that and paid for my own more in town) in the afternoon.

By early evening I was up for another walk and maybe a dinner that wasn’t the westernized meals served at the hotel. So I once again set out from the hotel and tried the other direction. I found rail lines and people awaiting the next train. I was ready for a transit adventure.

My ticket for the Addis Ababa light rail/metro system. I paid above list price but not as much extra as the guy wanted to scam me out of.
My ticket for the Addis Ababa light rail/metro system. I paid above list price but not as much extra as the guy wanted to scam me out of.

Tickets are sold at kiosks near the stations. There is one kiosk per location and it is not necessarily well signed. Once I finally guessed which building across the street it was I faced another challenge. The tickets are priced based on distance traveled and I had no idea where I wanted to go or how far apart any of it was. I chose “Stadium” as my destination and experienced the joys of getting hustled on the streets of a foreign country.

The guy selling the 4 birr (~$0.15) ticket happily took my 10 birr note and handed me my stub. He then waived me off, suggesting the transaction was complete, declining to give me my change. I stood there staring at him and eventually he pulled out a 5 birr note, still shorting me one. And then he walked away. I probably could’ve raised a stink and figured out how to get the few extra pennies back. I chose not to bother. Annoying as it is to tolerate that stuff I also didn’t really have the energy to be the angry guy fighting that afternoon. The cars have contactless payment systems on board but they are not yet functional.

Looking down the tracks of the Addis Ababa light rail
Looking down the tracks of the Addis Ababa light rail

The ride was smooth, as expected of a new system. Construction began in late 2011 and service launched in early 2015. The funding (Export-Import Bank of China), construction (China Railway Group) and operational manpower (Shenzen Metro Group) is all Chinese. To see the expanse of Chinese foreign investment happening across the world remains impressive; at least I’m no longer surprised by the breadth or depth of those choices.

The 41 kilometers of track span the city north to south and east to west. Parts of the service are elevated and spectacularly photogenic.

Other bits run at grade and face challenges with traffic. Future growth is planned as an elevated system to avoid those troubles.

The trains were crowded during my rides. My station was near the southern end of the network so it filled as we rolled north into town. As I returned to my hotel it was packed the whole way to my station where most passengers disembarked. Headways as 10-20 minutes right now; it seems that they could use more frequent trains at peak times (I was on roughly between 5p-7p) but it is unclear if China wants to spend the money on that or not.

More from this trip:

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.