The renewal of Morocco's railway is now proceeding rapidly with the start of work on major projects that will determine the future shape of the network. As well as providing major investment, the government is restructuring the national operator to facilitate the involvement of the private sector in both new line construction and train operations

Mohamed Rabie Khlie
Director General
Moroccan State Railways

HAVING MOVED from a period of restructuring to one of sustainable growth, Oncfm is now a serious competitor on the national stage, and we are determined to continue growing at a faster rate.

This intention is backed by our operating and financial results, which have been consistently improving over the last few years. In 2006 we achieved a record 23·5 million passenger-journeys, up 12% on the year before, with freight traffic reaching 35 million tonnes. This growth has had a salutary effect on our financial results, including turnover which was US$320m in 2006 and 6% up on the year before.

The 2005-09 contract-programme between Oncfm and the government envisages an investment of around US$2bn, making the state railway one of the largest public investors in the Kingdom of Morocco. This new rail development strategy aims to see annual traffic grow beyond 30 million passenger-journeys and 4 000 million passenger-km by the end of this decade, with freight traffic exceeding 40 million tonnes and 7 000 million tonne-km a year by this time.

Investment ambition

Following the strategy laid down in our 2010 business plan, which aims to make rail the reference mode for the national transport market, Oncfm is working to reposition the rail product and develop the Moroccan network as both a tool for socio-economic development and the means of transport of the future. This strategy lies behind the 2005-09 investment programme established by the contract-programme signed by Oncfm and the government which is intended to further improve the efficiency and competitiveness of the rail mode. It also aims to improve the quality of service provided to our customers, optimise production costs and increase rail's share of the national transport market to meet our traffic targets.

These objectives will be met, and even exceeded, by bringing to fruition major infrastructure projects to extend, modernise and increase capacity on the national network. The two key projects aimed at fostering economic and social development by unlocking the north and east of Morocco involve the construction of a 45 km route connecting Tanger with a new deep-water port under construction on the Mediterranean coast and the 117 km Taourirt - Nador route. Including rolling stock, these two new lines represent investment of US$350m and US$300m respectively. They should enter service during the course of 2008.

Other projects are being undertaken with the aim of achieving significant reductions in journey times. One example is the new 47 km direct line between Sidi Yahya and Mechrâ Bel Ksiri, which when combined with track renewals and electrification of the Sidi Kacem - Tanger route will save 1 h 30 min for passengers travelling to the north of Morocco. This will cut the journey time between Rabat and Tanger to under 3 h. Other enhancements to be delivered at the same time include more frequent trains, a higher quality service and more comfortable journeys, as well as improved levels of safety and punctuality.

To increase the capacity of the existing network, double-tracking is underway on the principal routes carrying the majority of freight and passenger traffic, where demand is rising. Doubling and improvements to the alignment over the 57 km between Meknès and Fès have formed the last stage of the Casablanca - Fès upgrade project, which Oncfm has been undertaking along the 320 km route.

His Majesty King Mohamed VI participated in the ceremonies on January 18 to mark the entry into service of the second track between Meknès and Fès.

Total cost of the doubling was US$150m, which was partially funded by EIB and JBIC. Completion of the upgrading is expected to cut the fastest Casablanca - Fès journey time from 4 h 30 min to 3 h 20 min.

Increasing capacity

A second track is also being provided over the 19 km between Sidi El Aïdi and Settat, to increase capacity in readiness for the construction of a double-track high speed line between Casablanca and Marrakech. Work began in the first quarter of 2006 and is due for completion at the start of 2008 at a cost of US$30m. The project to double-track the 103 km Nouasseur - Jorf Lasfar route will assist phosphate mining company OCP in meeting the objectives of its own development programme. The total cost is estimated at US$95m, and the completion of this project - including replacement of 33 level crossings with bridges - is expected during the course of 2007.

These projects are intended to facilitate the introduction of regular-interval passenger services to more routes, particularly Fès - Meknès, Casablanca - Settat and Casablanca - El Jadida. Since Oncfm first introduced regular-interval timetables on the Casablanca - Kénitra route, they have proved more and more popular with our customers. Double-tracking should increase capacity by enabling a more intensive service to be operated, and in particular permit accelerated schedules on the Casablanca - Fès route where the journey time will be reduced from 4 30 min to 3 h 20 min, and we will provide an hourly service each way.

As well as meeting the expected growth in demand, the double-tracking will see the laying of modern track designs which should require less maintenance at a lower cost.

In parallel with the infrastructure projects, we have acquired 24 double-deck EMUs each seating 400 passengers. Supplied by AnsaldoBreda of Italy, they are a derivative of the TAF units used by Trenitalia and Ferrovie Nord Milano. The first unit was delivered in August 2006 and entered service on the Casablanca - Rabat - Kénitra route in January. Deliveries are scheduled for completion during 2007.

Other projects are being undertaken under a wholescale programme of network modernisation, such as the renewal of 400 km of track mainly on the Casablanca - Rabat route as well as 400 km of overhead line equipment. We are also undertaking an ambitious programme of station construction, expansion and modernisation, involving investment of US$50m.

Safety systems are being upgraded through a major programme to modernise signalling and telecommunications which requires US$240m of investment. Other safety investment includes the replacement of level crossings with new bridges and a continuing programme to fence in railway property.

Structural reform

Since 1963 the Moroccan railway system has been managed by a state-owned company. Oncfm has enjoyed an exclusive monopoly to build, operate and manage the national network. However, whilst still under state ownership, Oncfm has considerably evolved over the years to reach the stage where it is ready to become a serious competitor in the liberalised transport market that is now emerging in Morocco. The rail sector in particular is being opened up to competition.

As part of the national railway reform programme, Law 52-03 which came into force on January 7 2005 sets out the legal framework for the rail sector in Morocco, establishing regulations for the construction, management and operation of railway infrastructure. More specifically, it establishes the size and shape of the national network, the existence of different types of operators, the principles guiding the relationship between the state and operators, and the principle of public ownership of the national network.

In a second chapter, this law also sets out the legal framework for the replacement of Oncfm by a new limited company, SMCF, which will assume the rights and obligations of the historic operator. Owned 100% by the state, under the terms of a 50-year concession agreement SMCF will be responsible for the management of railway infrastructure currently in use and under construction as well as operation of railway services on this network.

What this change in legal status aims to do is to foster a new management culture based on rapid decision-making and flexible business processes. This will enable the company to become even more efficient, more competitive and improve the quality and profitability of its commercial products. In addition, with the opening-up of the rail sector and the transformation of Oncfm into a limited company, it will be possible to consider smarter financial engineering and even contemplate partnerships with private operators to extend the existing network, where up until now only Oncfm has been legally entitled to build, operate and manage the network.

High speed future

High speed is one of the top priorities for operators across the world, as rail seeks to harness the beneftis of cutting-edge technology. The introduction of high speed rail in Morocco has become all the more necessary as our country has chosen to build closer ties with Europe through trade and is active as a member of the World Trade Organisation. The removal of tariff and customs barriers and the dismantling of economic frontiers between countries are a powerful stimulus to rail modernisation, and the choice of a rail tunnel for the fixed link between Europe and Africa beneath the Strait of Gibraltar points to rail as the means for accelerating the integration of transport infrastructure on both continents.

This is the wider background to domestic planning policy where future railway infrastructure projects are firmly concentrated on building high speed lines to serve Morocco's major transport corridors. This will be the major challenge for the next two or three decades, as there can be no doubt that high speed is the future of rail in Morocco.

Our high speed master plan sets out the programme for building 1 500 km of high speed lines by 2030. Forming the backbone of the nation's transport infrastructure, the high speed network will comprise two routes. The first will serve the Atlantic corridor from Tanger to Agadir via Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakech and Essaouira. The second will form part of a high speed corridor across North Africa, running from Rabat to Oujda via Fès, and then on to Alger, Tunis and Tripoli.

Feasibility studies have been completed for the Atlantic corridor, where technical studies are now underway for the Settat - Marrakech and Kénitra - Tanger sections. This is indeed the start of a major construction project which aims to make full use of new technology in order to produce the greatest benefit for our country.n

  • Above: Oncfm's expansion plans include a high speed line to relieve the existing Casablanca - Marrakech route
    Photo: Quintus Vosman
  • Civil works are well underway on the 45 km section from Tanger to Tanger Méditerranée, where a deep-water port is under construction. Major infrastructure projects such as this are intended to improve access to the north and east of Morocco and foster better connections with Europe
  • The Casablanca - Fès upgrading programme has included this mountainous section between Sidi Kacem and Meknès
    Photo: Quintus Vosman
  • The first of 24 AnsaldoBreda double-deck EMUs entered service in January 2007 on the Casablanca - Kénitra route
  • Double-tracking of the Nouasseur - Jorf Lasfar route will boost Morocco's phosphate exports

La renaissance du rail fait un grand pas en avant

La rénovation des chemins de fer marocains progresse rapidement avec le démarrage de travaux touchant des projets majeurs qui dessineront la forme future du réseau, explique Mohamed Rabie Khlie, directeur général de l'ONCFM. Tout en fournissant un investissement de 2 milliards de dollars destiné à des mises à double voie, électrification et nouveau matériel roulant au cours des cinq prochaines années, le gouvernement restructure l'opérateur national afin de faciliter l'implication du secteur privé, à la fois dans la construction de lignes et dans l'exploitation. Des études sont en cours pour deux corridors ferroviaires à grande vitesse totalisant 1 500 km, dont deux sections progressent déjà sur la voie du développement technique

Wiedergeburt der Bahn macht einen grossen Schritt vorwärts

Die Erneuerung der Eisenbahn in Marokko schreitet nun schnell voran, mit dem Beginn der Arbeiten an wichtigen Projekten, welche das zukünftige Aussehen des Netzes bestimmen, erläutert Mohammed Rabie Khlie, Generaldirektor der ONCFM. Neben 2 Milliarden Dollar an Investitionen für Doppelspurausbauten, Elektrifizierung und neues Rollmaterial während der nächsten fünf Jahren, restrukturiert die Regierung die Staatsbahn, um private Beteiligungen sowohl beim Bau von neuen Strecken und beim Bahnbetrieb zuzulassen. Studien sind in Arbeit für zwei Hochgeschwindigkeitsstrecken mit einer Gesamtlänge von 1 500 km, wobei zwei Abschnitte bereits in die technische Entwicklung fortgeschritten sind

La renovación del ferrocarril da un gran paso adelante

La renovación de los ferrocarriles en Marruecos se está desarrollando con rapidez, ya que se han iniciado los trabajos en algunos proyectos importantes que determinarán la futura estructura de la red, según explica Mohamed Rabie Khlie, director general de ONCFM. Además de realizar una inversión de 2 000 millones de dólares a lo largo de los próximos cinco años para la construcción de doble vía, la electrificación y la adquisición de nuevo material móvil, el gobierno está reestructurando el operador nacional para facilitar la participación del sector privado tanto en la construcción de nuevas líneas como en las operaciones ferroviarias. Se están llevando a cabo estudios para la creación de corredores de alta velocidad que sumarán un total de 1 500 km. Dos secciones ya se encuentran en la fase de desarrollo técnico