8th March 2023: This week, a high-speed rail international conference will take place in Marrakesh. This event is illustrative of Morocco’s efforts to establish itself as the leader of Africa and the Arab world in high-speed rail. In 2018, a new link began between Casablanca, Rabat and Tangiers, with another one being planned between Marrakech and Agadir in the coming years.
However, as ALLRAIL (the Alliance of Passenger Rail New Entrants) we also note that, while all other modes of transport In Morocco are already liberalised (local buses, light rail, intercity coaches and flights), only passenger rail remains under the control of one single operator: ONCF.
Unfortunately, experience from other countries shows that this will fail to maximise the benefits of the high-speed rail. Instead, it is market opening and competition between different operators that will optimise the usage of high-speed rail for Moroccan society as a whole.
Take a look at the country just to the north of Morocco: Spain. Already fifteen years ago, high-speed services were launched between Madrid and Barcelona. However, with just one single operator for most of that time, the benefits of competition did not occur: prices remained high, the product became staid and less attractive.
It was only when the second rival high speed operator began in 2021 and then a third in 2022 that Spanish citizens began to experience the benefits of competition: tickets fares dropped by 43%, quality and frequencies grew. Within just one year, passenger ridership grew by 49%, on the same high-speed infrastructure as before.
“There is absolutely no reason why the same modal shift as has happened in Spain could not happen in Morocco – as long as there is competition between different high-speed operators. And it was not just in Spain: in Italy and most recently in France, the market opening of high-speed rail has had the same effect.”Salim Benkirane , ALLRAIL team member and Moroccan citizen
By introducing competition to ONCF’s Al Boraq high-speed service, Morocco has a real chance make its rail system a benchmark in Africa and the Arab world, and build on one of the most climate-friendly transport modes to strengthen its role as a world leader in the fight against climate change.