TUNISIA’s first new electrified suburban railway line, the Tunis Rapid Rail Network (RFR) Line E, has welcomed its first passengers, marking an important step in a 13-year project to improve public transport in the Tunisian capital.

The new line’s 6.3km long Phase 1 was officially inaugurated on March 20 with minister of transport, Mr Rabie Majidi, in attendance. The line serves the capital’s southwestern districts, initially linking the main Tunis station, in the city centre’s Place de Barcelone, to the suburban Bougatfa station, with intermediate stations at Saida Manoubia, Annajah, Etayaran, Ezzouhour and Hrairia. A future phase will extend Line E from Bougatfa to Sijoumi with six additional stations.

Planning of the new line began in 2007 with Systra leading a project management consortium formed with Studi under the supervision of Tunisian National Railways (SNCFT) with financing from the World Bank, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the French Development Agency (AFD).

Construction of the new line was undertaken by Société Générale d’Entreprise de Matériel et de Travaux (Somatra-Get), which received the contract in November 2011 and began the construction work the following month. The elevated section of line was built with two pre-stressed U-shaped viaducts of more than 1km in length, reducing the amount of concrete used. Other major structures include a 280m tunnel at Saida Manoubia, a rolling stock maintenance depot at Sidi Fathallah and a traction power supply substation at Gobaa, Manouba.

Siemens, as a member of a consortium with Colas Rail and the local Somatra construction company, has equipped the line with ETCS Level 1, 25kV traction power supply system and a centralised control station. The line is also equipped with GSM-R. The consortium will also equip the 12.2km Line D, which will follow the route of an existing SNCFT line.

Inauguration of Line E was repeatedly delayed by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic - an official launch of the first train was held in July 2021, but the start of public services was held back until March 2023.

Trains on Line E operate at an average speed of 35km/h at sevenminute intervals, with a capacity per train of 2408 passengers.

SNCFT awarded Hyundai Rotem a Dinars 416m ($US 147m) contract to supply 28 four-car trains for the RFR in October 2018, with the first two EMUs completed in Korea in August 2019.

“This is an essential line for the mobility of Tunisians, as the road networks are saturated,” says Systra Tunis RFR project director, Mr Michel Aribi. “It will redistribute transport supply around stations and reduce air and noise pollution in urban areas.”

It is envisaged that the Tunis RFR will eventually have five lines totalling 85km.

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