MOROCCAN National Railways (ONCF) says it is on course to open Africa’s first high-speed line in the third quarter of this year and preparations for the start of commercial operations are now at an advanced stage.

Speaking at the Middle East Rail conference and exhibition in Dubai on March 12, ONCF managing director for high-speed train maintenance, Mr Luciano Borges, said work on the 183km Tangiers - Kenitra high-speed line is now 99%-complete and good progress is being made on the delivery of rolling stock (97% complete) infrastructure works (95% complete) and operational preparation (78% complete).

MoroccoHSTracklaying was completed in October and the final section of catenary was installed in November. The final section of the 25kV 50Hz ac electrification system was energised on January 6 and the Integrated Command Centre was commissioned in February.

Testing of the fleet of 12 Alstom Euroduplex high-speed trains began on the conventional network in August 2017. Dynamic testing commenced on the new line in February 2017, and a new African rail speed record of 320km/h was set on the section between Kenitra and Larache on October 20 2017. Test trains were due to reach 352km/h, 10% above the maximum commercial speed of 320km/h, as this issue of IRJ closed for press, and ONCF says the overspeed tests represent a key milestone in the certification process.

Four stations - Tangiers, Kenitra, Rabat-Agdal and Casablanca Voyageurs - are being rebuilt in readiness for the launch of high-speed services and work is scheduled for completion by June, when the new line is due to be handed over to ONCF by the contractors for the start of trial running.

ONCF has established an Operational Ability Taskforce to ensure the company is ready to begin operating commercial services by the third quarter. Led by senior management, the taskforce includes staff from all departments of the company and used a risk mapping methodology to identify more than 150 actions, which are split across nine topics.

ONCF has hired 479 new employees as part of the project and by the time the line opens more than 10,000 days of staff training will have been completed. As part of the intergovernmental agreement on the high-speed project signed by Morocco and France in 2007, ONCF and French National Railways (SNCF) established the Institute of Railway Training (IFF), a 50:50 joint venture which is helping to transfer high-speed rail skills and knowhow to Morocco.

The line will reduce the Tangiers - Kenitra journey time from 3h 15min to 47 minutes and Tangiers - Casablanca from 4h 45min to 2h 10min. Each double-deck Euroduplex train will seat 533 passengers and is formed of two power cars, two first class cars, five second class cars, and a catering vehicle. Services will run hourly between Casablanca and Tangiers, with ONCF targeting load factors of at least 70%.

At the beginning of March, ONCF said it was working to finalise the commercial offer as well as the implementation of a new service policy and the rollout of a new passenger information system. A brand name for the high-speed service will be unveiled when the line opens.

Morocco plans to build 1500km of high-speed lines as part of its Rail 2040 master plan, which aims to achieve journey times of less than two hours between the country’s key cities.

The network will comprise a north-south axis linking Tangiers, Rabat and Casablanca with Marrakech and Agadir, together with an east west corridor linking Oujda and Fez with the Atlantic coast.

Borges told IRJ that preliminary studies have been completed for the alignment and tunnels for the Marrakech - Agadir high-speed line, while detailed studies for the extension of the Tangiers - Kenitra high-speed line to Casablanca have also concluded.