ALGERIA: Five contracts to assist with modernisation of the Algerian rail network were announced at the end of January. SNTF has provisionally awarded a €88m contract to an Alstom-led consortium for electrification of three suburban lines radiating from Alger by the end of 2007.

Three substations will power the 25 kV overhead wiring on the Alger - Thénia, Oued Smar - Gué de Constantine and El Harrach - El Afroun routes, totalling 300 track-km. These will be upgraded to allow a fleet of EMUs carrying up to 1800 passengers to run at 120 km/h, which SNTF expects to treble annual ridership to 60 million passengers by 2010. Alstom's local partners in the consortium are SNTF subsidiary Infrarail responsible for civil works, and Baticim, which will supply catenary masts and other steelwork.

Assistance for the electrification project will be provided by SNCF International under one of four contracts totalling €8m. The consultancy will also assist SNTF with a programme to refurbish 350 passenger coaches and couchette cars at Sidi Bel Abbes for long-distance and suburban operations. Six consultants will help to develop proposals for modernisation of SNTF's information technology, to improve the management of freight and passenger operations, rolling stock, infrastructure and administration & finance.

The fourth contract provides for SNCF International and TSO to work with Algerian firms over the next four years on construction of a 360 km standard-gauge line from Mécheria to Béchar. This will parallel, and eventually replace, the existing 1055mm gauge line carrying freight trains to the desert outpost. Last year SNTF announced that Orascom Construction Industries of Egypt was low bidder for a US$475m contract to build the southern section of the line. Tenders for the northern section between Mécheria and Redjem Demouche were to have been called in July 2003.