The new rolling stock will replace trains provided by Canada’s Bombardierand will operate on the country’s two busiest routes, from the commercial capital Casablanca to Fez and to Rabat, which carries 10 million passengers a year. The new trains will include nine high-speed locomotives capable of carrying 400 passengers and travelling at 160 kilometres an hour.

The new trains form part of a $500 million, three-year investment programme that is intended to improve services and enlarge the network prior to the liberalisation of ONCF that would open the national rail network to private investment by 2010. It is envisaged that the organisation, which was established in 1963, will be split into three separate companies.

Priority projects under the programme include track upgrades for the Sidi el-Aidi-Marrakech and Fez-Oujda routes and the opening of five stations between Taza and Oujda. A $200 million new passenger terminal in Tangiers is scheduled to open in 2003. ONCF has outlined a number of other future projects including the construction of a 117-kilometre line between Taourirt and Nador in the northeast of the country and a 962-kilometre line linking Marrakech with Laayoun in the disputed Western Sahara province. There are also plans to electrify the Fez-Oujda line.

Earlier this year, ONCF launched the first tranche of a MD 4,920 million ($425 million) bond issue. Proceeds of the placement are financing the organisation’s pension payments in a move designed at clearing the way for ONCF to become a state-supervised shareholding company as a precursor to private involvement (MEED 1:2:02).

In 2001, ONCF carried 15 million passengers and 13 million tonnes of freight. It recorded $200 million in revenue for the year. ONCF operates 1,900 kilometres of track.