Ding Jihua (L), a Chinese chief attendant hugs her Ethiopian student Worknesh Betrw in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Oct. 1, 2016. (Xinhua/Sun Ruibo)
ADDIS ABABA, Oct. 4 (Xinhua) -- Intern train driver Nebiyu Melaku flashed a toothy grin when a train pulled in with a sharp sound of siren, startling the reporters interviewing him.
"We've been quite used to the sound. To me, it is like music. It is the new sound of Africa," said the 26-year-old Ethiopian at the newly-built Lebu Station in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia.
Melaku is studying hard with the hope of becoming the country's first to steer trains on the China-built Ethiopia-Djibouti railway, which will open service on Oct. 5 to become Africa's first electric rail line.
A graduate of the renowned Addis Ababa University, Melaku two years ago quit his job as a motor company manager and applied for the post of a train operator, believing that the railway is the technology of Africa's future.
A new train stops at a railway station in suburban Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Oct. 1, 2016. The Chinese-built railway linking the Ethiopian capital and the port of Djibouti, which is is set to become fully operational on Oct. 5, will be Africa's first modern electrified railway. (Xinhua/Sun Ruibo)
"At first, my families are surprised ... Now they are very proud of me, and keep interviewing me about what it is like inside the locomotives," Melaku said.
The 752-km rail line is the first modern railway in Ethiopia and Djibouti. To cope with the shortage of railway personnel of the two nations, a massive training program is underway.
In Ethiopia, which hosts the majority of the railway, about 2,000 local stewards, technicians, drivers and other personnel are receiving training from China Railway Erju Co. Ltd., a major builder and operator of the railway.
Apart from school-style classes and trips to China, they are following a team of 1,000 Chinese railway workers, who have been commissioned to run the railway, said Zhou Guoti, a site manager with the Xinyun Branch of China Railway Erju.
"We've applied the master-apprentice approach -- assigning each local student with an experienced Chinese railway worker," he told Xinhua.
"We're operating the railway because the country has so far no railway professionals, but our ultimate goal is to return the management to locals," Zhou said.
FROM BUILDER TO TEACHER
China is now a leading builder and operator of railway in the world. By the end of 2015, the country has put 121,000 km of rail lines into service, including 19,000 km of high-speed rail.
Railway construction has also become a star export of China to Africa, with deals clinched in countries like Kenya and Nigeria.
Experts from China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group, which designed the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway, say given many African countries lack of experience in running railways, Chinese railway firms have come to place more focus on management and personnel training after completing the construction.
China Road and Bridge Corporation, which is building the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) in Kenya, said it has trained 19,000 local railway workers, including 5,000 technicians, to ensure the line's smooth operation in the long run.
Melaku will follow Chinese operators onto the driving cabin upon the official opening of the railway.
"The Chinese teachers impressed me as being very professional, dedicated and committed, and they never hide anything from us," he said.
On a nearby train, Worknesh Betru, 23, is following 54-year-old Ding Jihua to learn to inspect coaches as a head conductor.
The retired head conductor has trained hundreds of young head conductors in China, and Betru was her first African student.
Not knowing how long she will stay in Ethiopia, Ding said she would return home "as long as I've taught them everything I know."
After the inspection tour, Ding and a group of young local students lined up in a solemn ritual to solute a departing train. To the left of the eastward-moving locomotive, a giant signboard says in both English and Chinese: "To start a new era with a railway."