Morocco Tests Africa’s First High-Speed Train

ONCF High-Speed TrainMorocco conducted its first tests of its new high-speed trains as part of a national infrastructure program to stimulate the economy. These trains, the first of their kind in Africa, will connect the two major cities of Tangier and Casablanca, reducing the travel time from nearly six hours to just two hours. The country aims to open the lines to the public by 2018.

The program began in 2007 as a non-binding agreement between the governments of Morocco and France. Today, the Moroccan and the French national railway companies are involved in the program as well. The project has collected a fund of around $5 billion: $1.2 billion from France, $585 million from Moroccan funds, $122 million from the Hassan II Development fund, $1.5 billion from private loans, and the rest from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait. The Moroccan rail company, the National Office of Railroads (ONCF), first began construction in 2011.

Morocco purchased 14 TGV Duplex high-speed trains from Alstom, a French rail company. The trains are double-decked and reach up to 320 kilometers an hour, cutting travel times from Tangier and Casablanca in half. The shipments of trains arrived in the Port of Tangier and were assembled at the ONCF maintenance center in Mghogha.

Morocco constructed 12 bridges to help the railways cross the challenging terrains between Tangier and Casablanca. One of these bridges is the Faisal bridge, which traverses the 2.3-kilometer-long Allokos basin. The Faisal bridge cost about $230 million and is the world’s longest bridge with rail lines.

Morocco is concurrently engaged in several other infrastructure programs, such as the world’s largest solar plant and multiple trading ports; the king and his government hope that these projects will revitalize the faltering economy. The director of the ONCF intends for the new railway to increase the annual passenger count from 3 to 6 million with hourly departures at a 70 percent occupancy rate. The trains have the potential to increase tourism and encourage foreign and business investment into the country.

Morocco’s projects have increased foreign investment by 11 percent and have kept tourism steady. Successful firms in Morocco, particularly in its health and energy sectors, have started to expand into other African countries. For example, CooperPharma, Morocco’s leading pharmaceutical company, recently unveiled plans to build a factory in Rwanda. Similarly, Fabrilec, a Moroccan supplier of electricity infrastructure, built 800 km of power lines through Burkina Faso.

However, several prominent figures have criticized the concentration of transportation infrastructure efforts in just two major city areas. Omar Balafraj, a leftist member of Parliament, said that Morocco’s “top priority should be education.” Balafraj’s sentiment echoes demands from “Stop TGV,” a campaign in opposition to the high-speed rail, which demands that the government pay attention to its weakening public services.

Additionally, corruption, poor education, and uneven development plague the Moroccan business environment, and these issues could be exacerbated by the concentration of high-tech infrastructure in more developed urban areas.

Riccardo Fabiani, an analyst from a political risk consultancy called the Eurasia Group, reports that there is “no distribution of the benefits of [the] foreign investment to the rest of the economy.” He points to the vast differences found in comparing urban and rural areas: rural regions have poor access to health facilities and education, as well as higher rates of unemployment. Although much of the project has been completed, criticisms of the government’s intentions persist.