Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and French President Emmanuel Macron have inaugurated what has been described as Africa’s fastest train, with a trip from the northwestern city of Tangier to the capital, Rabat.
The railway, known as the LGV, will significantly reduce the travel time between the industrial and commercial hubs of Casablanca and Tangier to two hours and 10 minutes, instead of four hours and 45 minutes, according to officials.
The project was completed after seven years of work in a 22.9bn dirhams ($2.4bn) project joint-funded by France, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
Morocco bought 12 double-decker, high-speed trains from French group Alstom, to be operated by the state-owned railway ONCF, which expects six million passengers to use the new service annually.
The king and the French president on Thursday boarded the train at Tangier after they were handed tickets by the Director General of Morocco’s National Railway Office, Mohamed Rabie Khlie, according to state news agency MAP.
Last year, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had called the railway “the fastest train on the African continent” during a visit to Morocco to sign a loan deal between the ONCF and the French Development Agency.
Authorities have said the project is part of a larger rail plan aimed at upgrading Morocco’s transportation system and boosting the economy.
However, the new line has not been without its controversies.
The high cost has drawn criticism, with some saying the project was not a priority and the money would have been better spent on health and education.
Critics also say it has flagged disparities in spending between the north and the south of the country – vast southern regions and major cities such as Agadir are without a basic rail service.
A derailment in October near Kenitra, 15km north of Rabat, which killed seven people and injured 125 others, sparked further criticism and calls for increased funding to improve safety and infrastructure as well as the punctuality of basic railway services.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera