Algeria’s transport infrastructure is in the midst of a major expansion programme, with extensions and upgrades to the country’s airports, seaports, and road and rail networks under way or in the pipeline. In addition, urban transport is undergoing an overhaul, as the state looks to address growing demand for public transport. Tram projects are continuing to roll out across major cities and work is being carried out to extend the Algiers metro – the only underground rail system in north-west Africa – in three different directions.
Transport infrastructure in Algeria, which is the largest country in Africa, has been through a process of transformation since the early 2000s, with tens of billions of euros channelled into infrastructure projects. In recent years, despite the pressures exerted on government spending as a consequence of declining revenues from hydrocarbons, the country’s transport networks have remained an investment priority, as Algeria targets boosting domestic production and developing its non-oil economy.
In 2015 the transport sector underwent a strategic reorganisation, with the appointment of Boudjema Talai as the new minister of transport and public works, and in the same year the government announced its latest five-year development plan, allocating AD832.7bn (€6.9bn) for expansions and upgrades of infrastructure through to 2019. This came on the back of substantial spending in the period between 2010 and 2014, when the sector received €35.7bn.
In The Works
Under the latest plan, Algeria’s railways and maritime segment will be prioritised. Sector projects will include the construction of new train stations and lines, extending the network into the south of the country, and a commercial deepwater port, beginning in early 2017. In addition to strengthening connections between cities and countries, new developments are targeting improvements to links within cities. With 70% of Algerians living in urban areas – up from 52% in 1990 – according to the World Bank, transit remains a strategic priority, particularly for greater Algiers, which has a population of over 5m.
One of the priorities over the next five years is rail. The development of this segment will not only alleviate the pressure on the road networks – which account for the majority of internal distribution and trade activity – but, more broadly, improve the efficiency of freight and passenger transport.
Freight makes up a very small proportion of total activity on the rail network and has been in decline in recent years; in 2015 the total tonnage of freight transported on Algeria’s railways stood at approximately 4.2m tonnes, down from 4.25m the previous year and 5m in 2013, according to figures released by the national railway operator, the National Rail Transport Company (Société Nationale des Transports Ferroviaires, SNTF). However, the operator is planning to turn this around in the coming years, with the goal of raising freight volumes to 6m tonnes in 2016 and 20m tonnes by the end of the decade.
The plans to improve the state of rail freight transport infrastructure are being welcomed by logistics companies. “The country is over-reliant on road transport and there is a particular need for better rail freight for the transportation of food,” Rachid Ghezlaoui, CEO of local freight-forwarder Transrafa, told OBG. “Rail freight services are also needed to transport goods over long distances from the north, where most companies are based, to the south of the country.”
According to SNTF, Algeria’s rail network encompassed 4498 km as of November 2016. Of this, 3750 km was operational, including 175 train stations. Although the total length of the network has increased over the last decade – from 3572 km in 2009 – recent years have seen no further extensions.
However, the system is set to grow substantially going forwards, with around 2200 km of new track already under construction and longer-term plans in place to further expand the network to 12,500 km. Upgrades are also being rolled out, with speeds on major lines set to be raised to between 160 and 220 km per hour, and new rolling stock brought in, some of which will be assembled locally. The first new high-speed line to enter into operation will be a 132-km section of railway between Oued Tlélat, near Oran – the second-largest city in the country – and Tlemcen, near the Moroccan border, via Sidi Bel Abbès. The project, which is being built at a cost of €1.7bn, was reported to be 63% finished as of early 2016 and is due to be completed in 2017.
Work also began in 2011 on sections of a planned line running across the country from east to west through the Hauts Plateaux region. Progress on the line has so far been somewhat slower than anticipated due to a number of factors, including opposition from residents along the route, with none of the initial sections appearing to have been completed as of late 2016. However, in early 2016 press reports indicated that a 100-km section between Msila and Boughezoul would be completed by the end of the year, and that another 139-km stretch between Boughezoul and Tissemsilt would be finished by mid-2017.
Opening Up The South
Other key projects being worked on or under consideration as part of the expansion drive include the extension of three existing north-south lines, which would take the network further into the south of the country. Work is already under way on the easternmost of these, a 150-km extension of the existing Touggourt line to the country’s oil capital of Hassi Messaoud, at an estimated cost of AD70bn (€579m). The project, which was 40% complete as of November 2016, is part of wider plans to open up the south-east of the country through the construction of a 560-km regional network consisting of four lines. A 110-km addition to an existing north-south line to Djelfa and Laghouat is also under way, with work on the line reported to be about 40% complete as of early 2016 and due to finish in 2017.
In addition, several projects to extend the network deep into the south of the country are also in the pipeline or under consideration. In January 2016 the Ministry of Transport and Public Works (MoTPW) announced that a 950-km line would be built from Abadla in Béchar Province, where the country’s eastern north-south railway line currently terminates, to Ghar Djebilet near Tindouf in the far south-west of the country, in order to transport the output of mines in the region, though the project is not expected to be publicly financed. A further extension of the central north-south line from Laghouat to In Salah is under study, and in 2015 the authorities announced a tender for a study on its further extension to Tamanrasset near the border with Mali, although no further information was available as of late 2016. In the east of the country, a spur from Hassi Messaoud to Ilizi is also under long-term consideration.
Meanwhile, progress is being made on a double-lane mining railway in the east of the country. The project will double tracks and modernise infrastructure along a 177-km section of railway between Tebessa and Djebel Onk. Pegged for completion in 2020, the line will eventually have the capacity to carry up to 26m tonnes of iron ore, phosphate and phosphate derivatives each year from a phosphate-processing plant under construction at Oued Keberit. In May 2016 the government gave the go ahead for the construction of the first section of the line, which is due to be completed in 2018, at a cost of AD50.6bn (€418.6m). A year earlier the authorities also approved the construction of a railway link between Djen Djen port and a new industrial complex to be built at Bellara. The 49-km link, which will run parallel to an existing railway line, represents an investment of AD4.5bn (€37.2m) over a period of around 18 months.
One of the factors behind the decline in rail freight in previous years has been a shortage of spare parts for the country’s ageing rolling stock and other equipment. To address this, SNTF is currently working to acquire new equipment and refurbish existing rolling stock at its maintenance facilities in Constantine, with a refurbishment budget of AD127bn (€1.1bn) for the period 2013-20.
SNTF is also looking to improve the timings of freight services and revise its tariff structure to make it more attractive to clients. The operator has said that it is also willing to consider building direct connections to large factories where possible to facilitate access to the network. The government has also pushed since 2012 for improvements to be made to the network’s connections to Algeria’s ports, which degraded in previous decades. As a result of this, major ports are once again linked to the country’s rail network. “The sheer volume of public infrastructure and industrial projects — such as power plants and factories — that are currently underway has significantly increased demands on the country’s transport and logistics capacity,” Abdelhamid Mazri, CEO of Transmex, told OBG.
In contrast to rail freight, passenger journeys on the rail network have been growing rapidly in recent years, with 36.2m journeys made on the network in 2015, up from 32.7m the year before and 27.3m at the turn of the decade. The 2015 total comprised 845,708 passenger journeys on long-distance lines, 2.03m on regional services and 33.3m on commuter services. SNTF plans for passenger numbers to rise at an even faster pace in years to come, reaching 40.7m in 2016, 60m by 2018 and 90m – including 2.5m passengers on major lines, 7m on regional services and 80.5m on commuter services – by 2020.
The operator is undertaking a range of initiatives to attract more passengers, including improving the general image of the network through, for example, better communication, higher levels of cleanliness on trains and measures to improve access for people with reduced mobility. The company is also working to renovate 202 passenger carriages, many of which date from the early 1980s, by improving their design and replacing old eco-unfriendly air-conditioning systems, which were designed to use gases containing CFCs. As of August 2016 SNTF had renovated eight carriages and was on schedule to complete all 202 within approximately a year.
In mid-2016 SNTF also launched a new online reservation system and is currently working to put a new ticketing system in place that should eventually be integrated with tram and metro networks. The initial functioning of the online reservation system has been somewhat hampered by the underdeveloped nature of e-payments in Algeria, limiting customers to reserving online and paying for their tickets on collection. However, in August 2016 the operator informed OBG that it was in negotiations with a local bank to enable online purchases, and that a new nationwide e-payments system was being rolled out, which could potentially help address the issue (see IT chapter).
The operator also plans to refurbish and modernise some of the country’s major railway stations. A pilot project to revamp Algiers’ main train station was launched in July 2016, with plans to carry out similar work at stations in Annaba, Oran and Constantine before moving on to stations in smaller cities. In addition, the National Agency for the Study and Execution of Rail Investments (Agence Nationale d’Etudes et de Suivi de la Réalisation des Investissements Ferroviaires, ANESRIF) is working on a plan to build a major new station in Kourifa, Algiers, in the El Harrach area of the city.
Urban Transit Investment
Much like the rail segment, urban transport has also been a high priority for the national government over the past decade, with billions of euros going towards the installation of new underground systems, tramways, commuter rail and bus systems. The move comes as major urban areas across the country, such as Algiers, Constantine and Oran, are facing increasing levels of congestion.
Algiers is home to the Maghreb region’s only underground metro system. Launched in 2011, the project cost a total of €1.1bn to build. A further €110m extension project, completed in 2015, brought the line’s total length to 13.5 km. Now, three further extension projects are under way. The first, a 1.7-km extension to the Place des Martyrs, is due to be completed by the end of 2017, while a new 3.6-km section of line between Aïn Naadja and Baraki, south of the city centre, should be ready by the end of the following year. Work on a 10-km extension from El Harrach to the city’s Houari Boumediene Airport, which will involve the construction of nine new stations, began in 2015 and is planned to be completed before the end of 2019, though the project currently appears to be facing some financing difficulties (see analysis).
Taking The Tram
Algeria also boasts a growing network of urban tramways, with systems already in place in several of its cities. The first tramway system, in Algiers, launched in 2011 and has since been extended several times, most recently in 2015, bringing its total length to 23 km. In 2013 two tramways opened in Oran and Constantine, at 18.7 km and 8.1 km in length, respectively, and Sidi Bel Abbès is expected to see the completion of its tramway by the end of 2016. Two more systems are also under way for Ouargla and Mostaganem and are pegged to finish in 2017. Yet another project, a 18.2-km tramway for the city of Sétif, was reported to be 50% complete as of September 2016 and is due to enter into operation in early 2018. French firm Alstom was contracted in early 2016 to provide 26 tram kits to the Algerian firm Cital for assembly for the project, at a cost of €85m.
Existing tram routes are also being expanded. A 10-km extension to the Constantine tramway is currently being built at a cost of AD34bn (€281.2m) and is due to be completed in 2019, and a project to extend the Oran line is also under consideration.
As with most regional economies, Algeria relies almost exclusively on maritime transport for exports. While pipelines help carry some of the country’s hydrocarbons production to neighbouring nations, both liquefied natural gas and manufactured goods more frequently travel by ship.
Algeria has 11 commercial ports along its coast. Arzew, which is primarily devoted to the export of hydrocarbons, is the country’s busiest port in terms of tonnage transported. According to the latest available data from the National Statistics Office, in 2013 around 42.7m tonnes of goods passed through the port, out of a national figure of 118m tonnes. Arzew was followed by Skikda, which is also focused on hydrocarbons, with 25.3m tonnes, Béjaïa, with 20.3m tonnes and Algiers, with 10.3m tonnes. A total of 516,867 passengers passed through the country’s seaports during that year, most of them via Oran, with 247,079 passengers, and Algiers, with 172,657.
Upgrading infrastructure and streamlining bureaucracy across the transport sector is seen as essential by many if Algeria is to increase trade flows in and out of the country. “With respect to logistics, everything has to start by drawing the attention of policymakers to the importance of opening up international and domestic markets,” Abd El illah Melaika, country manager at DHL Algeria, told OBG. “This can be done by relaxing the Customs clearance processes, and developing and upgrading infrastructure. Furthermore, the banking system needs to facilitate trade and reduce bureaucracy.”
As far as Algeria’s ports and related maritime services are concerned, the level of inefficiency present significantly raises the cost of importing and exporting goods and the time required to do so. The World Bank’s ease of doing business index ranks Algeria in 178th place in its trading across borders category, with the completion of border compliance and documentary compliance for importing a container of motor vehicles and parts taking 327 and 249 hours, respectively, compared to an average of 115 and 96 hours for the MENA region, and nine and four hours in OECD high-income countries. While the costs involved in the process are lower than or similar to other MENA countries, they are also substantially higher than in Algeria’s high-income OECD counterparts. Shipping costs in the country are approximately two-thirds higher than in neighbouring Morocco, and containers often leave Algeria empty because of limited non-hydrocarbons exports – oil and gas accounted for around 95% of total exports in 2015 – further reducing efficiency and pushing up costs.
Despite these hurdles, some cargo companies feel that the level of bureaucracy at Algeria’s ports is still manageable. “Problems can occur, but firms which know the business well can usually get merchandise out of ports in four or five days providing no special permissions are required,” Adlane Belabdelouahab, CEO of Arkas Algeria, told OBG.
To boost the efficiency of port-related bureaucratic procedures, the authorities have introduced a new one-stop-shop initiative, with the aim of centralising port-related bureaucracy at a single location to allow shippers to deal with a range of actors, such as Customs and shipping agents, in the same place, via a system of fully digitalised procedures. The initiative is set to be trialled in the ports of Algiers, Djen Djen and Arzew in 2016, and is due to be rolled out across all ports in the country in 2017.
Efficiencies at key facilities have also been improving. “The situation at Algiers port has improved substantially in recent years and in particular over the last year,” Belabdelouahab told OBG, noting that waiting periods for ships to dock had fallen from as high as 10 days during Ramadan in recent years, to less than one day at present. He attributed the change to a range of factors, including the creation of a network of dry ports to reduce pressure on capacity at seaports (see analysis); a reorganisation of the port’s layout that saw, for example, the removal of warehouses from the quayside; and the investment in new lifting capacities (reach stackers). However, Belabdelouahab also said that the situation remained somewhat more problematic at several of the other ports, including Béjaïa, which he said lacked capacity, and Oran, though he attributed problems at the latter port in part to ongoing work to construct a container terminal there.
A range of facilities are also being built or expanded to improve national port capacity. Djen Djen port, which is located near the town of Jijel, in the east, and with a draught of 17m, is the country’s deepest water port and is undergoing a major expansion programme, which will see the construction of a new 78.5-ha container terminal, capable of handling 2m twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) per annum. Around 49% of the capacity is expected to be used for trans-shipment activities. The AD19bn (€157.1m) project, which will be managed by DP World, was supposed to be completed in late 2016 but is running behind schedule. Two new jetties at the port were completed in 2015 and another jetty is also being built as part of the expansion project, with the port’s quay also being readied for an extension.
The authorities intend for much of the overland traffic to and from the port to be transported by rail, and to this end are upgrading the port’s rail facilities at a cost of AD220m (€1.8m). Among the works to be carried out is a new railway linking the port with the nearby Bellara Industrial Zone. The line will carry 7m tonnes of iron ore each year to a planned steel complex in the zone. A 48.6-km section of rail track running past the port between Jijel and El Milia is also being doubled. In total, around 3.87m tonnes of goods, almost all of them imported, passed through the port in 2013.
Meanwhile, a major new deepwater port, known as the central port of El Hamdania, is set to be developed near the town of Cherchell, around 85 km west of Algiers by road. In December 2015 the government gave the project, which is being financed by a €3bn loan from China, the green light, although a final decision has yet to be made on which firms will construct the project. Work on the 100-ha facility, which with a draught of 20m will be capable of receiving the largest of modern vessels, is due to begin in March 2017 and will take approximately seven years to complete, though parts of it will be operational within four years. The facility will have an annual handling capacity of 6.5m TEUs and 25.7m tonnes of general merchandise, spread across 23 docks. A 300-ha logistics facility is also set to be developed adjacent to the port itself, in addition to a 42-km motorway connecting the port to the RN1 route, which is part of the Trans-Sahara Highway, facilitating the port’s use as a hub for shipments to Africa.
According to Ghezlaoui, when completed the port will supply a real need, helping to reduce congestion. “Algiers port is in the centre of the city so it can’t expand any further,” he told OBG. “It is also difficult to move heavy cargoes through the town, so building a new port outside the city makes sense.”
Both the planned port at Cherchell and the container facility under construction at Djen Djen are intended to serve as a regional trans-shipment hub in addition to relieving pressure on local import-export capacity. The ports will face strong regional competition in this regard, with Morocco expanding its Tanger-Med facility, and the ports of Valetta Malta and Valencia in Spain already well established as trans-shipment hubs. “There are already a number of other hubs in the Mediterranean, so domestic trans-shipment facilities would need to be very competitive,” Belabdelouahab told OBG. However, the Algerian government believes that room still remains in the market, and that by selecting the right port operators they will be able to successfully tie the ports into regional trans-shipment networks.
The authorities are in the midst of a €1.1bn scheme, launched in 2013, to modernise the national maritime transport operator, Compagnie Nationale de Navigation (CNAN), which operates international cargo services, and Entreprise Nationale de Transport Maritime de Voyageurs (ENTMV), which runs ferry services to France and Spain.
The programme includes the purchase of 25 new cargo vessels for CNAN and two car ferries for ENTMV, each with a capacity of 700 vehicles and 2000 passengers, which will double the ferry operator’s capacity. One of the car ferries for ENTMV will be custom-built, a process which is expected to take around 30 months, while the second is to be purchased second-hand, with the firm aiming to take delivery in 2017, according to local press reports. As of August 2016 seven cargo vessels had already been acquired for CNAN, with all 25 due to be delivered by 2020.
The main goal of the acquisition programme is to raise CNAN’s market share in the transport of non-hydrocarbons goods to and from Algeria to around 30%, from just 1.4% currently for general merchandise and 1.75% for containers, and to reduce the cost of logistics from approximately 30% of the value of goods to 10%. Hydrocarbons exports are currently transported by Hyproc, which is a subsidiary of the state-owned oil and gas company Sonatrach.
International Ferry Routes
ENTMV operates 10 international ferry routes, comprising five routes to France, four to Spain and one to Italy. These services include a new 11-hour route between Mostaganem and Valencia, which was inaugurated in March 2016. The company operates a bi-monthly service on the route during most of the year, rising to two round trips a week over the summer months.
The company is also developing domestic inter-city maritime lines. A seasonal ferry route between Algiers and the eastern city of Jijel via Béjaïa was launched in July 2016, served by two vessels with a capacity of 206 passengers each, according to local press reports. Another route, between Algiers and Cherchell, via Tipaza, was launched the same month. The two lines are intended to help reduce traffic on main roads which are popular with holidaymakers during the summer. The authorities are also planning to launch a service between Algiers and Oran.
Of the country’s 52 airports with paved runways, the largest and busiest is Houari Boumediene, located in the capital. According to the latest available data, in 2014 the airport welcomed 6.4m passengers, up from nearly 6m in 2013. Indeed, with the airports of Algiers and Oran – the country’s second-largest – registering annual growth rates of over 8% for air traffic movements, expanding airport infrastructure has become a priority for the government, which is responding by rolling out large-scale infrastructure expansions (see analysis). The first of these, an AD90.3bn (€747m) new terminal for Houari Boumediene Airport, is set to raise annual capacity to 10m passengers by the end of 2018, when the work is expected to be completed, while another terminal, worth AD14bn (€115.8m), is under way at Ahmed Ben Bella Airport in Oran. This new terminal will raise the airport’s annual capacity to 2.5m upon its completion in 2017.
Meanwhile, state-owned national flag carrier Air Algérie is expanding its fleet. The firm is currently close to completing an order placed in January 2014 for 16 new aircraft – 15 passenger planes and one cargo vessel – comprising eight Boeing 737-800s, two Boeing 737-700Cs, three Airbus A330-200s and three 66-seater planes produced by France-based ATR, at an estimated cost of nearly €992m. As of July 2016 the firm had taken delivery of ten of the aircraft, with the remaining six due to arrive before the end of the year. The acquisitions will expand the company’s fleet size from 43 aircraft to 59, with plans to further raise the number to 100 by 2025.
The acquisitions will help support the company’s plans to expand its route network; in 2015 the airline announced the launch of 13 new routes by 2017, including eight to destinations in sub-Saharan Africa, boosting efforts to position the airport in Algiers as a hub for Europe-Africa travel.
Algeria also hosts another domestic airline, Tassili, which is operated by Sonatrach. Originally established in 1998 to transport oil and gas personnel, the airline has been selling tickets to the general public since 2013, and now has a fleet of 12 aircraft, made up of Boeing 737-800s and Bombardier Q200s and Q400s. Tassili initially operated domestic flights only, but in late 2014 it began flying to Marseille in France, its first international route, and has since expanded its international services to several other French cities, including Paris, Nantes and, most recently, Strasbourg, beginning in July 2016. Tassili has long-term plans to expand its international route network to other destinations in France and Europe, including in Italy and Turkey, as well as to a number of African cities. While Algeria’s air passenger transport network is well established and expanding, as yet air freight remains relatively underdeveloped, particularly in regard to exports. “There is a lack of cargo availability, and to export to sub-Saharan Africa companies often have to use airlines from other countries in the region, which makes it difficult to export perishable goods, for example,” Ghezlaoui told OBG.
Road Transport System
Unsurprisingly, given how large a role terrestrial transport plays in domestic trade, Algeria’s road network has been the recipient of some of the largest investments of capital by the government over the past decade.
Algeria is in the midst of sustained long-term efforts to dramatically expand its national motorway network, via a number of major cross-country projects. The first of these to be launched was the East-West Highway, which is a 1216-km, six-lane road running through the north of the country between the Tunisian and Moroccan borders, close to its coastline and via or close to a large number of its main cities.
Work on the €9.6bn project began in 2007, and as of August 2016 the entirety of the route – apart from an 84-km section running to the Tunisian border at its eastern extremity – had been completed. In October 2016 Talai, while confirming that the original contract for the project had been cancelled, announced that the work would be completed by the end of the year.
The authorities are also building 15 auxiliary roads to link the highway to major ports and cities that are not directly on its route. A network of toll infrastructure has been constructed along the highway which, according to local press reports, should enter into operation sometime in 2017. However, in October 2016 Talai said that a decision to this effect had yet to be taken. Long-term plans are also in place for another major east-west route running parallel to the East–West Highway further south, namely the 1020-km Hauts Plateaux Highway. A network of 12 auxiliary roads will provide linkages between the two highways.
Work on the project was originally supposed to begin in 2014, however this was subsequently pushed back, and against a backdrop of reductions in investment spending, in October 2016 Talai announced that construction of the project, expected to cost AD700bn (€5.8bn), was not on the government’s agenda at that time. However, he said that it would eventually be built, possibly financed by private capital under a build-operate-transfer (BOT) model.
Another large-scale road project under way involves both the widening of existing sections of the RN1, the country’s principal north-south road axis, and its extension to the border with Mali. A project to double the width of the road on a 520-km section of the route between Chiffa in Blida Province and Ghardaïa began in November 2015 to transform the road into a motorway, extending an existing section of motorway that runs along the road’s most northerly section between Algiers and Chiffa. Half of the project is due to be completed by the end of 2016, with the rest to be finished the following year.
A plan to undertake similar works on the section of the road running south from Ghardaïa is under consideration. The road, part of the 9022-km Trans-Saharan Highway project, which aims to link Algiers to Lagos in Nigeria, via Mali and Niger, currently terminates at Silet in southern Algeria. However, work to complete the final 320-km stretch between Silet and the border with Mali is due to be completed in 2017.
Freight & Logistics
Although the majority of freight is moved by road in Algeria, according to Ghezlaoui, the country’s road freight transport and logistics sector would still benefit from significant redevelopment, particularly when it comes to exports.
“It is hard to find a road freight firm that is able to export heavy goods to neighbouring countries,” he told OBG, adding that the market was highly fragmented, consisting primarily of individual operators rather than actual companies, many of whom are using old and sometimes uninsured vehicles, which exporters would be reluctant to trust with their goods. Ghezlaoui also said that one step which could help improve the development of the logistics industry would be the creation of a major export-oriented logistics base. “The government needs to consider creating a major logistics platform with facilities such as storage and packaging dedicated to all forms of commodity exports,” he told OBG.
Reductions in investment spending are likely to slow transport infrastructure expansion efforts in coming years. Nevertheless, numerous projects already under way are set to bring about major improvements in both domestic and international transport and logistics infrastructure, helping to boost the development of the wider economy, while potential new financing models, such as the BOT model, may provide opportunities to further develop the sector in the coming years.