Morocco has been one of the countries in Africa at the forefront of some amazing technological advancements. This past week, the first high-speed train in Africa was inaugurated by French President Emmanuel Macron and Morocco's King Mohammed.
It's a huge milestone for Morocco, a big first for the North African country. The high-speed trains called TGVs were launched last week, and will be connecting Tangier and Casablanca starting this month. Casablanca is Morocco's economic capital. The trains by French manufacturer Alstom can reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. The project is valued at around $2 billion and has been worked on for the past decade.
They are revolutionary to Africa's transport system. Their strength is shown by how they cut the journey time between two cities by half, to just over two hours. South Africa's Gautrain, which just falls short of being a high-speed train, is not a match to the double-decker TGVs.
These moves are being made in the hope of accelerating a sluggish economy. The aim is to improve the business climate and attract foreign investors. The benefit which this will bring lies in the numbers that the Tangiers-Casablanca route will bring in. The high-speed trains will bring more numbers on this route, translating to changing fortunes due to boosted tourism. This will lead to wider economic growth in the cities. A lot of investment will be banked on this.
"We aim at six million passengers a year after three years of commercial operation, instead of three million currently," said Mohamed Rabie Khlie, director general of national rail operator ONCF, in a recent interview with Le Monde. "This should enable us to achieve an operating margin that far exceeds that of conventional trains and will justify the development."
The new line will ease the issue of a "saturated network" because of increased passenger numbers. There has been an argument that this new development will lead to high costs for passengers, but this is something which Khlie has denied. "We will run trains intended for Moroccans and thus adapted to the purchasing power of Moroccans," said Khlie. "We do not want a train reserved for high-end customers."
The ONCF model is based on the French model, which relies heavily on government subsidies, so the passenger numbers in Morocco will have to turn into meaningful materialization, or else the government will have to provide subsidies. Another avenue for the government to get some benefits through this is by stimulating new economic activity in areas along the route.
Morocco looks attractive to foreign investors because of moves like these, but at the same time its economy is beset by a host of problems which include poor governance and corruption. The education system in Morocco is underperforming and still very much unimpressive. Viewed in light of these transport developments, one is made to think that there is uneven development in Morocco. Other areas are being neglected in terms of these developments, with cities like Tangier and Casablanca in this case getting all the attention. So in some areas underdevelopment still reigns supreme.
Not all are pleased with what is taking place. "Morocco is a poor country and the top priority should be education," says Omar Balafraj, a leader campaigner and member of parliament for the Federation of the Democratic Left party. Even if not all are on board, the development has reached its stage of fruition and the government will need to work on solutions to address some of the disparities that exist in the country.
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