Laying tracks: Operators are preparing for increases in passenger and freight traffic

In the last decade, Morocco has pursued a public investment programme worth nearly Dh180bn (€16bn) to develop the national transport infrastructure. Thanks in part to work completed under this programme, Morocco benefits from an efficient rail network that extends over 4000 km. The 2010-15 railway programme is expected to provide a total investment of Dh33bn (€2.9bn); Morocco’s National Railway Office (Office National des Chemins de Fer, ONCF) indicated that it plans to invest Dh7.5bn (€666.75m) in 2013, both to expand conventional rail lines and continue work on the new high-speed rail lines (lignes de grande vitesse, LGV). The introduction of a high-speed train, like the shorter but equally fast line for the Gautrain in South Africa, represents a major investment and is expected to provide a model for future passenger rail development. As such, the national operator is preparing for an increase in passenger volume and working to restructure conventional rail lines in order to boost its freight business. According to estimates from ONCF, the future of Morocco’s rail sector is bright.

DENSE TRAFFIC: The ONCF saw turnover of Dh4bn (€355.6m) in 2011. This represents an increase of 15.2% year-on-year (y-o-y), thanks to an expansion in both passenger and freight traffic. The number of passengers transported in 2011 was confirmed by the government to have grown 9.7% y-o-y to reach 34m; provisional figures from the ONCF indicate that passenger traffic increased to 36m passengers in 2012.

“Railways have fared well compared to other modes of transport,” said the CEO of ONCF, Mohamed Rabie Khlie. Within Morocco, relatively short distances make air transport an expensive option, and bus transport is dominated by a large number of small-scale private companies, many of which operate in the informal sector. Based on this growth, ONCF aims to increase annual traffic to 50m passengers by 2015.

Railways are also a key means of domestic freight transport. The volume of freight traffic grew 3% y-o-y to reach 37m tonnes in 2011, and the ONCF aims to boost this to 50m tonnes by 2020. Phosphates continue to represent the largest proportion of freight traffic, approximately 45% of the total volume in 2012 according to provisional figures from the ONCF.

Growth in freight and container traffic at several key ports should also boost rail traffic in the medium term.

The state is working to encourage the development of several industrial and manufacturing zones in the effort to increase value-added activity and export levels.

Renault was one of the first companies to launch operations in the Melloussa industrial zone near the port of Tanger-Med, which has contributed to increased rail traffic. The first trains carrying cars from the Melloussa factory to the Tanger-Med port became operational in 2012, and the ONCF expects to increase the rhythm to six trains per day by 2014. Container traffic from the port of Casablanca is also expected to see a jump after the second quarter of 2013 following the launch of the new logistics zone in the area, estimated for March 2013.

WORKING TOWARDS GOALS: ONCF authorities have set the goal of transporting 1m containers by rail and handling 3m containers each year in its inland ports by 2015. In the long term, the company aims for one-third of its business to be passenger traffic, one-third phosphates and one-third container freight.

In order to support this projected growth, the ONCF is engaged in an investment programme to refurbish and expand its rolling and fixed stock on conventional railways. The agency has reportedly set aside Dh3bn (€266.7m), or 40% of planned 2013 investments, for the improvement and expansion of existing railways.

Current priorities include adding a third track to the railways connecting Casablanca-Kenitra and Casablanca-Marrakech, and electrifying the line between Fez and Oujda. A renovation project will also be undertaken before 2015 in order modernise 40 stations nationwide and turn them into joint station-shopping centres.

HIGH SPEED: As railways have proven to be an efficient means of transport in-country, the government is working to boost the sector through the completion of the high-speed train project. This high-visibility project should ultimately create rapid connections between the country’s economic hubs. In a first phase, the LGV will link Casablanca, the country’s economic engine, to the administrative centre of Rabat and on to Tangier on the Mediterranean coast. Upon completion, travel time between Casablanca and Tangier should be reduced from five hours to just over two hours, and annual passenger numbers on this segment are expected to rise from 2m to 8m. The line should contribute to the economic development of maritime trade and the zone around Tangier-Tétouan and increase the flow of goods transported to and from Tanger-Med.

In the future, the ONCF has plans to extend a second LGV line east between Rabat and Oujda, with the possibility of extending it to other countries in North Africa. According to Morocco’s High-Speed Rail Plan, the government aims to construct 1500 km of high-speed rail lines by 2035. When high-speed trains begin running regularly and absorb some of passenger traffic, conventional rail lines along the Atlantic coastal corridor will be repurposed to boost freight transport.

THE WORK BEGINS: Work on the first portion of the LGV between Tangier and Kénitra was officially launched in September 2011. The ONCF has outlined a 2013 investment budget of Dh4.5bn for the LGV; however, progress has been slow due to the size of the project, as well as an ongoing discussion about the LGV’s usefulness and concerns over the high cost of investment.

The primary argument forwarded by those opposed to the project deals with its social impact, namely that the funding could be better spent on social programmes such as health, education and poverty reduction. However, the project was selected for the considerable economic potential it presents by speeding up transport between key production zones.

From 2013 onward, the Ministry of Equipment and Transport has committed to ensuring all foreign and privately funded transport projects also support development of local industry. The ONCF arranged to purchase the first 14 high-speed train from the French manufacturer Alstom, at a total cost of €400m. In the future, the ministry aims to foster the development of a local train-building industry. However, in order for this to become a reality, Morocco will need to seek partners to help develop professional training centres and ensure transfer of expertise from foreign to local companies.

RAIL LOGISTICS: The ONCF is also taking steps to develop the railway logistics offering, in line with the government’s 2010-20 logistics development strategy. In addition to an existing multi-modal container platform in Aîn Sbâa, which the ONCF inaugurated in 2008, the operator is constructing two additional logistics zones in the greater Casablanca area. The government launched construction on the MITA-Casablanca logistics zone in April 2012, and the ONCF is managing the project. The industrial zone is expected to cover some 32 ha, for a total investment of Dh600m (€53.34m).

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The Report: Morocco 2013

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