In an effort to improve transport within the country’s vast, and often challenging, geography, authorities have been investing in upgrading and expanding Algeria’s railways, which currently extends for 4573 km, with 3854 km in active use. The plans will bring the total rail network to around 12.000 km by 2017, according to the Ministry of Transport.

Railway expansion is important for increasing connections between the country’s hinterlands and its network of ports along the Mediterranean. Between 2005 and 2014, spanning the previous and current five-year infrastructure development plans, the government has allocated $32bn to railway infrastructure, with the National Agency for Railway Project Studies and Investments managing the development of the railway network. Most of the existing railway is located in the more populous coastal areas, but authorities expect the investment drive will help link the existing northern lines to the southern provinces.

FROM EAST TO WEST: One of the main railway development projects is the 1300-km Hauts Plateaux line, which is set to improve access to the region’s urban centres. The authorities are striving to promote development of the area, which has been traditionally under-populated, but has had an important role as the country’s breadbasket. The new line will link existing rail networks with newly built sections.

In late 2012, the government also launched another set of projects to revamp railway links in several wilayas (provinces). A new link would be established between Touggourt and Hassi Messaoud, which would run 154 km. Between Mécheria and El Bayadh a 130-km line will be constructed, as will a new link from Djelfa to Boughezoul, which will connect the town of Boughezoul, one of the new cities the authorities are building to encourage settlement in the central regions. Two other developments, a new line linking Bab Ezzouar to Houari Boumediene International Airport in Algiers, and another connecting the town of Beni Saf to the national rail network, were also launched.

NEW REACH: In terms of projects that are set to extend the network southwards, the existing 700-km Oran-Béchar line running down the west of the country is being extended by 600 km to connect it to the desert town of Adrar. This will be used to move passengers, freight and hydrocarbon products.

The development of railway links is happening simultaneously with the extension of the highway network, and this is expected to further improve roadway operations. Road transport of goods and heavy loads has added to traffic problems on several important roads, causing delays and increased transport costs. According to the Ministry of Public Works, in 2012, 90% of total in-country transport of goods was done by road; however, the authorities are hoping that a well-developed railway system will help change this.

FOREIGN EXPERTISE: Railway expansion projects are attracting several international contractors. As with other infrastructure modernisation efforts, authorities have been tendering parts of the railway development efforts to different companies, depending on the nature of the contract. In May 2013, a Portuguese consortium made up of TPF Planege and REFER was awarded a €1.4m contract to upgrade the Boughezoul-Djelfa train line, which runs for 140 km. Italian Astaldi won a contract worth around €417m to build the Saïda-Tiaret section of the Hauts Plateaux line, running for 153 km.

Despite recognising the need to attract international partners for some of its most ambitious projects, especially those with challenging engineering conditions, the Algerian government is also hoping that the expansion of the railway network will provide new opportunities for local contractors. One such initiative is an AD362bn (€3.3bn) investment package, directed at upgrading and expanding the Constantine-Ramdane Djamel and Aïn Té mouchent-Oran rail links, as well as revamping railway infrastructure on the outskirts of the capital Algiers, which will be managed and implemented by Algerian companies.