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Maghreb metamorphosis

01 Aug 2000

CIVIL WAR has long precluded serious interest by outside parties in the fate of the 4219 km Algerian Railways network. The murderous feuds of the recent past will not be forgotten, but it looks as though opportunities to revitalise what was once a busy and growing railway are at hand. Neglect, sabotage and the hostile environment have taken a heavy toll on SNTF, with recent figures showing freight carryings at less than 8 million tonnes and barely 2000 tonne-km compared with over 13 million tonnes and 2400 tonne-km 10 years earlier. Long-distance passenger travel was also badly hit, although demand for commuter services into Alger has remained strong. Several important projects for new lines, double tracking and upgrading have effectively been abandoned, but the need to complete long-planned routes such as Tebessa - Ain M'Lila remains.

Confirmation that Algeria may once more be seeking help and funding came when President Bouteflika visited Paris in June, telling the National Assembly that his policies include liberalisation of the national railway. While history dictates that relations between the two countries will always be tricky, it did not preclude the use of an Alstom subsidiary as the builder of a fleet of 14 Co-Co electrics for SNTF's iron ore trains in 1996. Diesel locomotives are on order from Turkey, and the need for all kinds of rolling stock is certain to grow in the future.

The Alger metro too is being revived, and completion of the first line looks to be an early priority. Just what President Bouteflika can offer to entice foreign investors into his country is not clear, but partnerships with local companies would seem a good bet.