Addis Ababa - Diré Dawa - Djibouti train service...

A brand new Chinese-built standard gauge line formally opened between Addis Ababa in October 2016, replacing the old colonial metre-gauge line which ran until 2010.  Passenger services started on the new line in January 2018.  If you have any feedback please get in touch!

 Addis Ababa ► Diré Dawa ► Djibouti

 

 Djibouti  ► Diré Dawa ► Addis Ababa

Km

Runs every 2nd day, on odd dates*

Runs every 2nd day, on even dates**

0

 Addis Ababa Furi-Lebu

depart

08:00

 Djibouti Negad station

depart

08:00

98

 Adama

arrive

09:41

 Ali Sabieh

arrive

08:51

depart

09:46

depart

08:56

446

 Diré Dawa

arrive

15:35

 Diré Dawa

arrive

12:50

depart

15:50

depart

13:05

664

 Ali Sabieh

arrive

19:44

 Adama

arrive

18:54

depart

19:49

depart

18:59

728

 Djibouti = Negad station

arrive

20:40

 Addis Ababa Furi-Lebu

arrive

20:40

* = Train runs from Addis to Djibouti on odd-numbered dates (1, 3, 5...), except the 31st of the month.

** = Train runs from Djibouti to Addis on even-numbered dates (2, 4, 6...).

Addis Ababa to Djibouti via the new line is 728 km.  See useful country information:  Visas, currency, dialling code...

Finding the station...

The stations are new and not yet shown on Google Maps, and taxi drivers & guesthouses are still often unaware of the location of the new stations.  Map showing Addis Ababa Furi-Lebu station & road access.  A taxi from central Addis to the new Furi-Lebu station takes roughly 45 minutes.  Map showing Djibouti Nagad station.

How much does it cost?

How to buy tickets...

What is the journey like?

Photos in this section are courtesy of Clément and Andreas Marggraf.  If you get any further photos of the scenery, please get in touch.

Addis Ababa Furi-Lebu station

Arriving by taxi at Addis Ababa Furi-Lebu station...

Addis Ababa (Lebu) station   Inside Lebu station

Addis Ababa Furi-Lebu station...

 

Inside Lebu station...

The train to Djibouti at Addis Ababa

The train to Djibouti about to leave Addis Ababa Furi-Lebu station...

Hard seats   Restaurant car

Hard seats....

 

Restaurant car...

A herd of dead goats   Regular seats

Road kill - rather, rail kill - seems to be an issue.

 

Hard seats...  Hard class class regular seats...

4-berth sleeper   sleeper corridor   6-bunk sleeper   sleeper hallway

Soft sleeper...  4-berth compartments.  It's not known what terminology is used in Ethiopia, possibly VIP berths.

Hard sleeper.  6-bunk open compartments.  It's not known what terminology is used locally, possibly regular berths.

The train on its way from Addis Ababa to Djibouti

The daily train on its way from Addis Abeba to Djibouti...

Dire Dawa station  

Dire Dawa station...

Travellers' reports...

Traveller Jacek Brzeziński went from Addis to Djibouti & back in April 2018:

"The tickets need to be bought at least day before, but now it’s possible to buy them in the city centre, below Leghar metro station.  I got a voucher that needed to be exchanged for the ticket on Lebu station the next day at 7am. 

Lebu station (sometimes spelled Labu or called Furi-Labu) is outside the city, about 30-40 min by taxi, there’s not even an asphalt road leading to the station yet. Before embarking the train I had to exchange vouchers for tickets, go through visa check (they stamped me out of Ethiopia) and luggage check.  There are three 'international' cars in the train: one hard seats car (perfectly comfortable), one 6-berth couchette car - which doesn't make much sense as the train runs during the day, it ran empty - and one 4-bed private compartments with some business travellers in it.  There is also a dining car, but you can only get water, Fanta and chips.  The cars are clean and in every car there is an attendant responsible for cleaning them on the way.

There are car numbers and seat numbers on the ticket, but they are not respected by passengers and the staff. So basically you can grab any free seat in the only car available for international travellers, regardless of what’s on the ticket.  The hard seats car was mostly empty until Dire Dawa.  In Dire Dawa lots of people embark the train and the car becomes overcrowded.

The trip is fun, the landscape changing is fabulous, you can see the villages, herds of goats and sheep, camels and monkeys. The only stressful moment was the border, when some Djiboutian customs and immigration officers embark.  It’s already after dark, there’s crowd and they don’t have any uniforms, just some unreadable small IDs.  They don’t speak English, they collect all the passports and then the train starts moving.  It takes 40-60 minutes to give you back your passport.  in the meantime train stops at Ali Sabeh.  Generally if you know what’s going on it’s ok, if not (because there is no one to ask who speaks English), it’s strange.

The train runs on time.  It stops frequently for various reasons (usually people or animals on the track), but it arrives at most stations well ahead of schedule (sometimes even 30 minutes) and then departs on time.  After arrival in Djibouti there are two (?) more passport controls and one more luggage inspection and then you’re free to go.

Nagad station is outside the city, but not far outside.  There were many taxi drivers waiting for the train.  The train route is very similar to old French-built meter-gauge railway which you can usually see on one side of the train or another, but the rails are deconstructed in many places.  The only difference is that French railway went through the city centres, and Chinese railway runs outside the cities - not only terminal stations are outside the relevant cities, but also stations like Dire Dawa.

The trip back from Djibouti to Addis Ababa is very similar. It’s worth getting tp Nagad station earlier (around 07:30), as there are many travellers to Diré Dawa.  The taxi ride from Djibouti City to Nagad station takes around 15 minutes.  On the border there’s again passport/visa and customs inspection, and also yellow fever vaccination certificate is required (“yellow book”).  Most passengers get out at Diré Dawa.  At Lebu station there are no more inspections.  Outside the station many taxi drivers and minibuses wait for passengers. The trip itself is great experience, definitely recommended."

Traveller Graham travelled Addis to Djibouti in January 2018...

"I took the Addis Ababa to Djibouti train yesterday (Jan 29th).  Departures are from the new Lebu station outside Addis. A newly posted sign at the station indicates that the train runs on odd numbered days from Addis to Djibouti. Departures are at 8:00am, but I'd recommend being there by 7:20 or so to allow for baggage checks and immigration processing.  And, as I learned, you ought to buy your ticket ahead of time. When I got to the ticket office yesterday, I was greeted with "No, no, you can't buy a Djibouti ticket for today. Djibouti tickets must be bought 24 hours in advance!"  Woops. This was repeated by several officials. But after some pleading from me and a rather ambiguous visit to some Ethiopian Immigration officers, it was eventually decided to let me buy a ticket anyway.  I believe the issue is that they are supposed to send a complete passenger list well ahead of time to Djibouti Immigration.

There was an exceptionally slow and thorough baggage check on entry to the main station. All my gear was carefully examined and I had to power on all my electrical items (laptop, GPS, camera, shaver) to show they were legit. I had a small kitchen knife confiscated, but they allowed my Swiss army knife through. Next up was Ethiopian Immigration. They checked I had a Djibouti Visa and then stamped me out of Ethiopia. (There is no support for Visa on Arrival into Djibouti, so if you don't have a visa you can't board).

We left at 8:00am. We had stops at Adama (9:20 to 9:51) and Dire Dawa (15:01-15:15). There were a couple of brief pauses along the way and at one point a 15 minutes stop apparently due to power problems, but no major delays.  As far as I could tell, no goats or camels were harmed. It was a pleasant ride, watching the landscape slowly change from greenish highlands to scrubby desert.  The car designated for Djibouti passengers was less than 20% full.  There was a restaurant car, but it only sold soft drinks and biscuits.  The style and layout of the cars follow normal Chinese train patterns and, despite the name, the "hard seat" cars have perfectly comfortable soft seats!  We reached the Djibouti border at 17:35.  The Djibouti officers came onto the train, collected up our passports and processed us all in. This took about 40 minutes.  And, finally, we got into Djibouti's Nagad station at 19:20.  Except not quite finally, as it turned out there was another short immigration check and then a customs inspection before leaving the station.  At the final immigration check the officer had a printed passenger list.  My name wasn't on it, presumably because I bought my ticket late, but he didn't seem to mind and simply wrote it in at the end. 

Nagad is some distance from central Djibouti City. Fortunately, there were a couple of taxis waiting. They each collected up as many passengers as they could find for the journey into the city."

Traveller Briony Lipscombe reports from January 2018...

"For the adventure and experience it’s 5 stars.  But taxi drivers and guesthouse owners still do not have any information [on the train service or even the location of the station] so persistence is key.  As you enter the station on day of departure be prepared for a very serious search.  Staff will fully unpack all luggage and bags.  In our experience this included looking through dirty clothes bag, all pockets, books and even testing makeup items!  The inwards train from Dire Dawa was about an hour late to arrive and boarding took some time.  The train is new, comfortable and clean.  Toilets are of the squat variety and also have a feet cleaner!  Although you will get a seat number on your ticket, this was not guaranteed in our experience with everyone sitting wherever and some people initially without seats and the 6 bed sleepers being sitting only for large groups or families.  There is a dining car on the train but it doesn’t seem to be fully functional, selling only water and coke.  Travellers should pack lunch and lots of snacks.  The vendors in the station had a small selection of biscuits and soft drinks but sell out quick.  At Dire Dawa and Addis stations on train days there are minibuses and taxis waiting so just up to you to negotiate on price."

Traveller Clément reports from the first public run in January 2018:  "A contact told me the train left at 8am. I arrived at the train station of Furi-Lebu at 7am.  The ticket counters are on the right of the station. They were surprised I was going to Djibouti as all the other passengers would stop at Dire Dawa.  If you go to Djibouti, make sure you already have a visa even if you are entitled to get a visa at the border, otherwise they'll most probably deny selling you a ticket to Djibouti.  Even though it is in the same building, you have to go outside in order to get in the waiting hall.  The federal police does a thorough search of your bags when entering the hall.  They stop letting you in 5 minutes before departure.  The train starts as soon as all passengers are on.  Since we were only 20ish passengers, it departed at 7:55.  There is a counter for the Ethiopian customs to check border crossing passengers, but it was closed and I was told we'd do the immigration stuff at the border.  The Chinese management company told the two governments to install Djiboutian immigration counters in Ethiopian stations and vice versa to speed up the process at the border but the governments haven't yet agreed on the formalities.  Hopefully, it should change as they get more international passengers.  The train is managed by a Chinese company though the hostess and a few other staff are Ethiopians . The Chinese manager told me we would arrive at 8pm rather than the scheduled 6pm because usually there are power cuts and stops for various reasons. 

The train has 1 car with VIP 4-berth compartments, 1 car of 6-berth open compartments with seats and power outlets in the hallway, 1 dining-car selling very basic food (a basic "sandwich", some cookies, chips and water - though it was their inaugural journey) and 8 hard-seats cars with 118 seats.  Dining and hard seat cars only have power outlets for the attendants.  The train currently stops in Adama and Dire Dawa only as the other stations are not ready and not yet staffed.  We stopped twice between Lebu and Adama, including once for 5 minutes because we hit a goat at a road crossing (the management company then sends some of its local staff to pay compensations).  We arrived in Adama at 9:15 and stopped for about 40 min for an unknown reason.  The train then passes through less populated areas at between 90 and 100 km/h; you're in the very basalt-y plain of the rift valley, surrounded by soon-to-be woken small volcanoes.  After riding 2h15 from Adama, the train stopped in the bush not far from Metehara.  I saw a goat on the side that couldn't seem to use its back legs.  I thought it was giving birth ("cuuuute") until I realized there were more inanimate goats a few meters further.  The train had gone full speed through a herd, killing 30.  Locals came and there were soon 30ish people around the train.  The four federal police guys who are always aboard the train went to discuss with them as usual.  However the shepherd didn't want to let the train go until he gets compensated (for 70 goats, since some were pregnant and some cubs need their dead mother...). More federal and local police came, about 20 in total.  The train left after 7 (!) hours of negotiations which, according the the Chinese boss in the train, included some calls to the Ethiopian minister of transport and the head of the federal police in Addis, at dusk (I suspect the shepherd let it go because they had to go home for diner, otherwise they would have stayed!).  The boss told me "they do it on purpose to get money. They ask an unreasonable price. The other day we killed 12 camels and they asked for a million birr". 

We then went straight to Dire Dawa.  The train was so late than we stopped in Dire Dawa for the night. It was supposed to leave Dire Dawa for Djibouti at 2:52 pm; we arrived at 9:30pm.  The train managers were very sorry and stressed that it is the very beginning of the operations and it will improve with time.  They were pretty efficient in managing the situation, booked a hotel in Dire Dawa and took us there by 4x4 even though I told them I wouldn't mind sleeping in the train.  Next day, the train was supposed to leave to Djibouti after midday, as the train from Djibouti was due to arrive at 11:30ish, and there is only one track on most of the journey. I got a phone call at 9:40am saying a car is waiting for us at the hotel to take us to the station. Once at the station (about 20 min from the centre on a soon-to-be-paved road), the federal police didn't want to let me in until the Ethiopian immigration guy checks my passport.  Re-thorough bag check, then a guy used the immigration counter to register my departure from Ethiopia.  Having lived here for 2 years, I expected a wide range of possible problems (no internet connection, fingerprint machine or camera not working...).  However it went pretty smoothly, albeit a bit slow, about 10 min.  The train waited for me since I represented 50% of the 2 passengers. 

We left at 10:40.  After 1h40 of normal ride the train got stuck for 30min in the desert because there was no electricity.  Then we were running at 110 km/h according to the GPS.  We stopped again because of power failure at 13:15 and power came back 1h later. Apparently they once got stuck for 10h... We stopped at Ayesha station 40 km from the Djibouti border for 30 min to meet the train from Djibouti and leave half the crew to join it.  The other train has about 30 Djiboutian passengers.  Then another 2-min stop as we killed a young camel. Ouch! No-one was around so we continued.  We arrived at the border at 3:35pm.  We were waiting for the Ethiopian immigration guys to come from the border for the 2 Ethiopian ladies of the dining car as the other passenger and I already got the exit stamps in Dire Dawa. Finally, only the Djiboutian immigration police arrives, just as the train was about to leave to meet them at the road border checkpoint, a couple of km ahead.  Everyone gathers in the dining car because there is no water or electricity in the immigration building.  Then after 20 min the Ethiopians arrive.  Everything is set in 30 minutes but the train only leaves at 5:10 pm. Stop at the Ali Sabieh train station 20 min later. We arrived in Djibouti Negab station at 6:20 pm. The station is to be inaugurated next morning by the president.

Travellers' reports from the old metre-gauge line, now closed...

Traveller Richard Gennis reports (2009):  "If you are thinking of travelling in on this train you should check at the station the day before, because when I was there the Dire Dawa departure on Saturday was cancelled and it ran on Sunday departing at 10.30am!  I was also told that there’s about one derailment every week!  You will notice that its a lot more expensive to travel from Djibouti to Dire Dawa!  3rd class means travelling in a goods wagon, but the only real difference between 1st and 2nd Class is the small padding to the seats.  The trains are busy so expect to stay in your seat for many hours or loose it! 

Security wise, there are armed guards on the train as it departs Dire Dawa but these are mainly to stop young children jumping on the train and trying to escape to Djibouti. I saw many young children mainly boys jump on, and then the train would stop while the armed guards beat them until they got off.  Sometimes the guards would chase some of the lads on the ground to make sure they got there quite brutal beating before the train would continue!  The normal things would apply if travelling on the train in this part of the world as thieves would be around and valuables should be well out of site as you do attract a lot of attention. 

There are two border points, one departing Ethiopia and the other one at Guelile 600 metres further down the line to enter Djibouti.  You can expect to be at these two stops for around three hours in total as everyone has to get off the train at both stops and move across to a small building and wait in the compound where you will wait until called by the border police, and then re-board the train.  You can get food and drink at the Ethiopian border check point although pretty basic, hot coffee, tea, cold drinks, biscuits and of course the local food Injera.

Most of the guide books have the info’ on the train completely wrong, most of them still saying the train departs Addis Ababa but this has not happened for over two years. They also say the train does not operate at night because of the chances of attacks, but this is also wrong as the train I caught on Sunday 20-12-2009 departed at 10.30am (over a day late) and arrived Djibouti at 05.30am the next. I spent over 18 hours in the cab!!!!

 

Train travel in Ethiopia & Djibouti...  Photos courtesy of Richard Gennis

 

Djibouti station.  Photo courtesy of Richard Gennis

 

Dire Dawa station. Photo courtesy of Richard Gennis


Useful country information

Train operator :

Chemin de fer Djibouti Ethiopien (CFDE), www.erc.gov.et.

 

 

Time zone:

 

GMT+3 all year. 

Dialling code:

 

Ethiopia dialling code +251, Djibouti +253.

Currency:

 

£1 = 32 Ethiopian Birr, 262 Djibouti Francs.  $1 = 19 Birr, 160 DJF.  Currency converter

Tourist information:

 

www.tourismethiopia.gov.et

Visas:

 

You need a visa to enter Ethiopia, see www.ethioembassy.org.uk/consular_services/visa.htm.

To enter Djibouti you must pick up a visa at the Djibouti embassy in Addis, as visas cannot be issued at the frontier or in Dire Daoua. 

Page last updated:

25 March 2018


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Travel insurance & health card...

 

 

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