It’s a game changer for the kingdom. Traveling at speeds of nearly 320 kph, brand-new TGVs are now cutting across the hills of western Morocco, connecting Rabat with Tangier and Casablanca in just 1 hour 20 minutes and 2 hours 20 minutes respectively, journeys that would previously take 3 hours 45 minutes and 4 hours 45 minutes.
With the official launch by Moroccan and French heads of state on November 15, Morocco became the first African country to boast high-speed rail service.
Six Million Travelers Annually
With most trains on the African continent carrying freight, the new 200-kilometer-long high-speed line will free up the old railway for transporting goods from Tanger Med, Africa’s second-largest port. Meanwhile, 6 million passengers are expected each year by the third year of operation for the new high-speed service.
It is the result of a unique partnership between Morocco’s national railway operator (ONCF) and the SNCF. The French operator provided expertise on the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the high-speed rail. The 12 trains were designed by Alstom.
The project mobilized 5,000 workers and enabled Morocco to develop its railway expertise. Some even see the project as the foundation from which a job-generating professional train sector can develop.
Heavy French Involvement and Expertise
The massive project was worth €2.1 billion, of which 51% (€1.1 billion) was financed by France via the Réserve Pays Émergents, guaranteed bank loans, and a private sector research and assistance fund (FASEP). Agence Française de Développement (AFD) also supported the project with a loan of €300 million, which covered the cost of construction on the viaducts and railway ties plant for this outsize project.
The Moroccan government and several Arab funds (Saudi Fund for Development, Kuwait Fund for Development, Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, Arab Fund for Economic & Social Development).
Keeping An Eye on Biodiversity Protection
Throughout the project, AFD was particularly careful to monitor its environmental and social impact. For example, a special agreement was signed by ONCF and the Haut-Commissariat des Eaux et Forêts in Morocco to ensure respect for biodiversity, particularly in the two scenic natural areas the high-speed line passes through. The aim was to protect Morocco’s natural heritage while promoting the development of its rail system.
For ONCF, the high-speed line is just the beginning of a vast €3 billion investment program covering the entire country, which will include building a 1,500 km network connecting the “Atlantic” corridor of Tanger-Casablanca-Agadir with the “North Africa” corridor of Casablanca-Rabat-Fès-Oujda. It aims to increase density in the domestic railway network, promote sustainable mobility, and reduce isolation between territories.
As a forerunner to high-speed rail service in Africa, the Moroccan TGV is also a standard-bearer for the innovative, green transportation projects being developed throughout the country, including light rail in Rabat and Casablanca. More than just a train, the TGV offers a glimpse into the future of land-use planning in Morocco, with more modern, more accessible, less polluting modes of transportation that provide safe transit for passengers. The gears are turning.