Early Impacts of Al boraq
A brief description of the financial and socio-economic effects, project critics and future plans
Expensive transport infrastructure projects such as the Moroccan HS line (i.e., Al boraq) should come with a number of impacts both financially and socio-economically as well as critics.
Based on initial estimates between 2007 and 2015, the cost of the project was expected to be 1,8 billion euros (EUR). The total cost has ended up being 15 % higher, i.e., around 2–2,1 billion EUR or a 20–22,9 billion Moroccan dirhams (MAD). This increase was partly due to, e.g., higher cost of acquiring the land properties.
The project was partly funded by the Moroccan State (25 %). However, major funds came from other partners, i.e., France (51 %) and a number of Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates).
Half of the funds are allocated to building the infrastructure. Excluding the newly renovated train stations, the infrastructure project has a cost of 8,5–9 million EUR per km of built tracks. SNCF claims that it is one of the lowest in the world, e.g., the French HS network costed 20 million EUR per km.
Although no formal cost-benefit analysis (CBA) studies are published, the HS line generates a number of socio-economic benefits. First and foremost, the travel time reduction is up to 76 % (on the newly built line section). Moreover, the line links several important cities, see the following table.
ONCF aims to reach an annual ridership of 6 million passengers. It claims that the project allows to free up capacity for freight rail transport from Tanger Med port. Moreover, ONCF states that the new HS project will develop national expertise and promote the transfer of skills for the development of a local rail ecosystem in Morocco.
Last but not least, ONCF states that the HS project will produce a viable business model that will accelerate the development of other railway lines.
The project was subject to several critics received from different parts. A group of associations led by a prominent member of the parliament condemned the expensive HS project as part of a movement called “Stop TGV”. The claim was that the project is far too expensive, and that the money is worth being invested in other more urgent sectors such as health and/or education.
Morocco has a total of around 2,000 km of rail, only 300 km of which was built after the independent in 1956 from France (and Spain). Other critics claim that expending and renovating the existing network has more priority than a newly built expensive HS line between cities that are already linked with conventional railway lines.
Another critic of the project relates to the funding from France. Such funding is claimed to reduce the flexibility of choosing technologies other than the French ones, e.g., rolling stock from Alstom (instead of possible competitors such as Siemens or Bombardier).
A number of other critics were also brought by different parts, e.g., insufficient communication with the public and the inexistant CBA studies.
The construction of the first Moroccan HS railway line triggered a number of future railway projects in the country. In addition to the modernization of existing infrastructure for conventional lines, there are plans to extend the newly built HS line to the south. The extension is planned to reach Marrakech (the touristic center of the country) and Agadir, see the following figure.
These future projects are part of what ONCF calls “Moroccan high-speed 2035 Masterplan”. The plan is expected to cost more than 100 billion MAD (around 10 billion EUR) for the construction of a network of around 1,500 km of HS tracks. This ambitious plan aims at connecting major cities such Marrakech, Essaouira, Agadir, Meknes, Fes and Oujda by 2035.