Morocco is banking on a French-built bullet train being an investment draw card for the country by linking its major cities and sprucing up its image internationally in the process. The train was launched this month by King Mohammed VI with French president Emmanuel Macron following a decade-long development program backed by mostly French funding as well as some Gulf region financial support.
The train will take around two hours to travel from Casablanca to Tangier along the Atlantic coast, slashing the commute by half, with speeds expected to reach up to 320 kilometers per hour (200 miles per hour). Rail authorities are aiming for six million passengers a day, nearly double the current usage, in the next three years to cover costs for the $2 billion project.
But critics question the need for a high-speed train when the railway system is itself decrepit and transport infrastructure is quite poor (p1).
“It’s kind of insane to travel at over 300 km”, said Omar El Hyani, a Rabat local city councilor and member of the Stop TGV coalition. “What is the use if people have no access to basic services, let alone reliable trains”.
He is concerned the government’s public priorities have faltered in recent years opting for large infrastructure projects with low dividends such as building a new city from scratch with Chinese help. Morocco already boasts the world’s largest solar power plant that will provide enough energy to over one million households.
Last month in one of the North African kingdom’s deadliest train crashes seven people were killed and 125 injured when a train derailed out of Rabat. An investigation is still ongoing on the mechanical issues that led to the crash, which sparked public outrage while finishing touches were being put on the TGV.
“We could build 20 major hospitals at the same cost, whereas we only have six in the whole country. We calculated that with 10m of the new railway track you could build a small school. Imagine how many you can build over the whole track”, he said.
There are also concerns that funding will be diverted to maintaining the LGV service at the expense of ailing regional trains services. An audit report commissioned by the rail authorities was leaked last year showing that most trains show up an hour late and that funding for the entire rail network had been dwarfed compared to the LGV.
“You attract foreign investors with lack of bureaucracy and corruption. This (train) doesn’t attract investors”, El Hyani said.
Morocco was Africa’s top investment destination though for this year.