Ethiopia - Country Commercial Guide
Road and Railways

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2020-07-20


The GOE has steadily expanded its road network in recent years. As of the end of FY 2018/19, Ethiopia had 138,127 kilometers (85,825 miles) of all-weather roads – about 39% of the required road network in the country. In FY 2018/19, the GOE invested 37.3 billion Birr ($1.13 billion) in road construction. The Ethiopian Roads Authority plans to build an additional 10,000 kilometers of road at a cost of 41 billion Birr ($1.24 Billion) in the coming year. In the past fifteen years, the GOE has been vigorously engaged in new road construction as well as expansion of the existing road network through Ethiopia’s Road Sector Development Programs (RSDP).

U.S. firms have bid on tenders for road design, construction, auditing and supervision services.  However, most of them have not been price competitive. Ethiopia will continue to need construction vehicles (bulldozers, cranes, trucks, and forklifts), vehicle attachments, and mechanized and non-mechanized equipment to level and pour construction materials. Most projects open for international competitive bidding are funded either by the GOE or major international financial institutions, such as the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) and the African Development Bank (AFDB).

Ethiopia is aggressively working to develop an extensive rail network. As a landlocked country, Ethiopia primarily uses the port of Djibouti as a gateway for the vast majority of its internationally traded goods (through which flow 90% to 95% of its trade), with most of the goods essentially transported to and from the port by trucks. This situation has made Ethiopia’s trade logistics very expensive and uncompetitive. Ethiopia’s reopening of diplomatic relations with Eritrea has created the expectation of expanded logistics operations via the Eritrean ports of Assab and Massawa.

The Ethiopian Railways Corporation (ERC) under the Ministry of Transport is mandated to create a modern nationwide railway network, replacing the Franco-Ethiopian railway that is no longer in service. ERC completed a 656 kilometer railway network construction project that links the capital city Addis Ababa to the port of Djibouti. This railway expansion project was carried out by two Chinese companies, state-owned China Railway Group and the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation. The new rail system began commercial operations in 2018. Two Chinese companies will operate and manage the $3.4 billion railway line through 2024 as local employees are trained to takeover in due course.

The Addis Ababa-Djibouti rail project will significantly improve Ethiopia’s international trade by reducing traders’ logistical costs and time of delivery. The new electric railway reduces transport time from Djibouti to Modjo (a dry port city 70 kilometers from Addis Ababa) from the current 84 hours to just 10 hours. Cargo capacity on the rail network is 3,500 to 4,000 tons of freight per train, with ERC anticipating 6 to 7 million tons of cargo per year in its first few years of operation. Cargo volume will increase to 10 million tons in the mid-term.

U.S. companies have several market opportunities in this sector, including transit oriented planning, development, and design for railway projects, and the supply of rail technologies such as locomotives and smart rail ticketing systems. The Addis Ababa - Modjo rail network is the first phase of a master rail network development plan, to be developed over an extended period due to funding requirements, that aims to connect Ethiopia with all of its neighboring countries outside of Eritrea and provide access to three ports (Djibouti and Tadjoura in Djibouti, and Mombasa in Kenya) in two phases. The second leg of this network, the railroad from Awash (one of the stops on the Addis–Djibouti railway line) to Mekelle is currently under construction by a Turkish company, Yapi Merkezi, and a Chinese contractor, China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), with completion expected in the early 2020s. The third leg is the connection between Weldeya and Tadjoura; while the contract has been awarded to two contractors, one Chinese firm, CCCC, and one Indian company, Overseas Infrastructure Alliance (OIA), the financing for this project has not yet been finalized. The fourth step will be to connect Addis Ababa with Konso via Hawassa and Arba Minch, for extension in phase II to Mombasa, Kenya, via Moyale and Nairobi. The final leg of Phase I is the link from Addis Ababa via Ambo, Ejaji and Jimma to Bedele (to be extended to South Sudan in the second phase). In phase II, the network would be extended to Axum, Shire, Bahir Dar and Assosa and, in addition to the links to Kenya and South Sudan mentioned above, to Metema and Kurmuk on the border to North Sudan. Priorities have been set based on the need to move commodities such as potash and coffee out of the country and import capital and consumer goods.

Ethiopian Railways Corporation is among the major state owned enterprises that have been announced as slated for partial or full privatization. Specific details on the privatization process of the Ethiopian Rails Corporation are yet to be announced.

The Government of Ethiopia is currently implementing a $2 billion National Logistics Development (NLD) strategy, which was incorporated into GTP II to alleviate trade logistic hurdles. Under this strategy, the GOE aspires to expand its rail network, targeting enhancement of the country’s export competitiveness by significantly reducing trade logistic costs. As a part of the NLD plan, the GOE will further expand its railway network to roughly 1,545 km (960 miles) linking all the seven major dry ports and towns of the country. U.S. companies can bid for upcoming projects in railway design, construction, and supervision services. As these infrastructure projects have limited financial resources, foreign bidders with project financing proposals are best positioned. U.S. companies can approach the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), the successor agency of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. EXIM Bank to develop attractive funding proposals for these upcoming projects.

Table: Road Network                                                                     Unit: Kilometers










Total Market Size





Total Local Production*





Total Exports





Total Imports**





Imports from the United States***





Source : National Bank of Ethiopia

Source : National Bank of Ethiopia

‘* indicates length of road projects carried out by local contractors.
‘** indicates length of road projects carried out by foreign companies.
‘*** indicates estimated length of road projects that can be constructed by U.S. companies.

Leading Sub-Sectors

•    U.S. firms have opportunities in the road and railway construction sectors and may also offer engineering design, consultancy and supervision services in partnership with a local company.
•    U.S. exports of construction machinery, chemicals, locomotives, railway machinery and equipment and building materials are highly valued in Ethiopia.


There are opportunities for U.S. companies through government tenders for road and railway construction projects. U.S. companies can also provide engineering design, consultancy and construction supervision services in the road and railways sector to the administrating agencies or the contracted companies. Other potential opportunities are the sale of railways locomotives, machineries and equipment, construction vehicles (bulldozers, cranes, trucks, and forklifts), vehicle attachments, and mechanized and non-mechanized equipment to level and pour construction materials.

Companies should refer to the Project Financing section of Chapter 7: Trade and Project Financing for specific project opportunities.

Web Resources

U.S. Foreign Commercial Service,

African Development Bank

Export-Import Bank of the United States:
Country Limitation Schedule:

Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC):

Trade and Development Agency:

SBA’s Office of International Trade:

U.S. Agency for International Development:

Ministry of Transport

Ethiopian Roads Authority

Ethiopian Railways Corporation

Ethio Lease Ethiopian Capital Goods Finance Share Compnay

World Bank