The transportation sector in any country is vital for its economy for the mobility of goods and services as well as people. Its consumption of energy is among the highest among all economic sectors and its impact on the local environment, especially in cities, cannot be underestimated.
For this reason as well as others, Morocco has elected to use a price mechanism to rationalise its transportation fuels and reduce the burden of subsidies in a country where 94 per cent of energy is imported. The prices of gasoline and diesel have been gradually brought to international levels and kept there even when prices of oil dropped to almost half what they were in June 2014.
Even electricity prices have reportedly been adjusted upwards. Nevertheless, fares of taxis, buses, trains and trams remain affordable as they may receive some subsidy one way or the other from the government.
Morocco’s transportation system is elaborate where the road networks are around 56,986 kilometres in addition to 1,416 kilometres of motorways joining the major cities. These are complemented by an established railways network run by the national administration, and which carried 38 million passengers and 36 million tonnes of freight (including phosphate rock) in 2012-2013. The length of the standard gauge network is 1,907 kilometres, of which 1,003 kilometres is electrified, a great achievement indeed.
But the network is essentially in the midland, north and east. Projects are well poised to reach the south where a huge investment programme will build 1,500 kilometres of high-speed railways by 2035 in addition to more than that in the form of conventional railways. The jewel in the crown is the high-speed link between Tangier and Marrakesh via Rabat and Casablanca, which is under construction now and was expected to come into operation this year.
However, the project is delayed until end of 2016 for financial reasons and problems with land acquisition. It is expected to carry 8 million passengers a year, cut journey time by more than 50 per cent and destined to be extended southward to Agadir.
The Moroccan transport minister said during a convention on railways in the Mena (Middle East and North Africa) region (held last March in Dubai) that his country plans to refurbish the railways and expand it by investing $20 billion (Dh73.4 billion) up to 2035, which includes the work underway to modernise the controls and telecommunications on the network.
The Moroccan network is connected to Algeria’s, but unfortunately the link has been closed for years. The connection with Spain and Europe is by ferry through Gibraltar, but there are studies for a future railway tunnel under the strait.
The congested cities in Morocco are also receiving attention to ease the traffic jams, improve the local environment by reducing emissions and reinforce the social contact between people. In this connection, the $1.6 billion Casablanca Tramway is a good example.
Work on the system — the pride of Casablanca — started in 2009 and went operational in December 2013. The first phase — comprising 31 kilometres of track and 48 stations — is served by 74 low-floor air-conditioned trams.
The network is Y shaped now and travel time between ends runs to 64-69 minutes at almost 19 kilometres an hour. Casablanca is still congested during rush hours, but you can imagine what it was like before the trams.
The line is fed by electrical overhead lines and is destined to be expanded to 76 kilometres by the addition of two more links after Casablanca discarded its plans for an elevated metro system.
The success of the system is measured by its acceptability, where in the first month of service it carried over 40,000 passengers, which soon rose to an average of 100,000 a day. This year’s average is expected to pass a quarter million a day.
The system is complemented by an electric railway connection from the city centre to Mohammad V Airport, which serves the Casablanca region.
But the Casablanca tram system is not the first in the country, where the Rabat-Salé tramway started operations in May 2011 connecting the two cities by a bridge across the Bouregreg River. The network has two lines for a total length of 19.5 kilometres and 31 stops serving more than 400,000 inhabitants in Rthe abat and Salé cities.
There are plans for further systems especially in Marrakesh, and further expansion of the existing systems is an open option. The way energy consumption in Morocco is growing, mass transit systems and modern railways are a sure way of improving efficiency, in addition to creating environmental gains.
By Saadallah Al-Fathi
The writer is former head of the Energy Studies Department at the Opec Secretariat in Vienna.
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