Rabat — Engineers in Morocco are preparing to test Africa’s first high-speed railway this week, with trains reaching 320km/h, the Moroccan national railway operator, ONCF, said on Monday.
One train reached 275km/h on Monday along a stretch of track between the northern cities of Kenitra and Tangiers.
"This is already the fastest train on the African continent," said French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who was in Morocco to sign a loan deal between the ONCF and the French Development Agency. He said the railway was "emblematic of the Franco-Moroccan bilateral relationship".
The link between Casablanca and Tangiers via the capital Rabat will slash journey times between the North African country’s economic hubs by almost two thirds, to just more than two hours.
Morocco’s TGV, which gets its name from the French abbreviation for high-speed trains (Train à Grande Vitesse), is set to enter service in summer 2018.
The total cost of the project, 50% financed by France through various loans, is about $2.4bn (¤2bn). It is set to go about 15% over budget, according to figures released on Monday. However, ONCF head Rabii Lakhlii said the project had cost "less than ¤9m/km, compared to a European standard of ¤20m/km".
The route, made more complex by hilly terrain and strong winds, required the building of several viaducts including one some 3.5km long.
The ONCF is targeting 6-million travellers a year after three years of operations. Lakhlii said tickets would cost about 30% more than those for the current rail link.
Moroccan leaders have heralded the project as a key step in modernising the country’s infrastructure, but opponents have criticised it, saying the money could have been better spent in a country where many live in poverty. They also argue that it unfairly favoured French companies.