The railway system was established in 1912 during the Italian occupation of the country, but it has remained largely unused since 1965, with a total track length of just over 600 km. The government has been working on plans to revitalise the rail network since 1998. Following various construction projects over the years, progress was halted by the outbreak of conflict in 2011.

Libya’s railways hold strategic importance for regional growth as part of the foundational infrastructure needed to facilitate trade, generate revenue and address critical issues like undocumented immigration. Additionally, completing the north-south line through mineral-rich areas could help the country capitalise on untapped raw materials. Integrating ports, roads and railways into a comprehensive transport network will be a crucial step towards efficiently moving goods and people within the country and across international borders.

However, several risks will need to be navigated to ensure the successful development of the rail network. Political instability and conflict could disrupt investment and delay the implementation of rail projects. The predominance of road transport and limited awareness of the potential benefits of railways could also pose challenges in attracting investment and changing transport preferences. Nevertheless, the government’s plans for the expansion and modernisation of the rail network, combined with relative stability and economic growth, are set to create a favourable environment for investment. With capital inflows and policy support, the rail network has the potential to connect economic and population centres within the country, reduce travel times and improve economic opportunities.

There is ample room for investment in Libya’s rail segment, including expanding and modernising the existing rail network. Introducing high-speed trains could transform the national transport infrastructure, while implementing so-called intelligent transport systems – such as train control and advanced communication systems – could further enhance the safety, reliability and efficiency of rail operations.

Conflict has negatively impacted the maritime transport segment, with the major ports of Tripoli and Benghazi facing disruptions. According to the UN, the blockade of these ports in 2020 by forces aligned with the Libyan National Army based in the east resulted in losses exceeding $6bn. Piracy threats in the waters off the coast represent an additional risk to trade.

Against this backdrop, the Port of Misrata has emerged as a key regional centre for maritime trade. Located some 250 km east of Tripoli, the port’s strategic position has made it a preferred destination for shipping lines that cannot access other ports in the country. The port handled more than 1.2m containers in 2020, which marked a 10% increase from the previous year despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.