By Dan Loosemore: The first High-Speed rail line in Africa, between Tangier and Casablanca in Morocco, has taken a step forward with the arrival of the first of 12 Alstom Duplex high-speed trainsets in the country. The 350km route between the cities will cut the journey time to just two hours from the current average which is closer to five, and is expected to carry up to 10 million passengers a year. Operated by the national railway operator, Office National des Chemins de Fer du Maroc (ONCF), the line is planned to be the first of 1500 km of high speed lines to be built in next three decades in the north African kingdom. The double-decker trainsets, have arrived via a boat more used to transporting planes than trains and are based on the TGV Duplex design, but specially modified to withstand Morocco’s frequent sandstorms.The rolling stock consists of 14 trains each of which is capable of carrying 533 passenger are costing ONCF €400m. The European rail traffic management system (ERTMS)-2 will be deployed for signalling.
The Morocco High-Speed Rail project has not been without its critics, with some arguing that it should not be a high priority in an impoverished country. Per capita income is just $3,020, according to the World Bank’s 2014 figures. And Morocco ranks 129th in the United Nations Human Development Index. There was also controversy in a lack of a competitive tender prior to French company Alstom securing the contract. Morocco a French protectorate before independence 1956 has strong economic and political links with France, and the Government of France has supplied significant funding for the project. Supporters however say that the rail line is much needed and will bridge regional divides, improve the economy and strengthen links between the country and Europe. Opening of the new line was planned for December 2015 when construction was launched by King Mohammed VI and the then French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, but delays to the infrastructure works mean this has now been put back to 2017.
On completion this will be first High-Speed rail line in operation in Africa, although others are being planned. However as we all know, many nations around the world have done preliminary feasibility studies that gain positive results, but the planned lines are eventually shelved or postponed due to high cost, and only a few nations actually build high-speed rail lines.
In April 2010, the South African government proposed a U$30 billion Johannesburg–Durban high-speed rail system. China Railway Group are said to be in talks although cost and the challenge of crossing the Drakensburg mountains are significant obstacles to this becoming a reality. Other potential African high-speed rail lines are in Nigeria and Kenya, both of course likely to be funded and built by Chinese companies.
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