Anger mounts at €2.5bn bill for Tangiers-Casablanca high-speed rail link
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For the past few months, a group called “Stop TGV” has been campaigning against the construction of a high-speed rail link between Tangiers and Casablanca, arguing that such an expensive project is not a priority. On Sunday, opponents of the project in cities across Morocco took to the streets in protest.
A protester holds up sign against the high-speed rail project during a demonstration on Sunday.
For the past few months, a group called “Stop TGV” has been campaigning against the construction of a high-speed rail link between Tangiers and Casablanca, arguing that “in a poor country like Morocco” such an expensive project is not a priority. On Sunday, opponents of the project in cities across Morocco took to the streets in protest.
The TGV line is expected to link up Casablanca and Tangiers, Morocco’s principal economic centres, by the end of 2015. The aim is to reduce travel time from 4 hours and 45 minutes to 2 hours and 10 minutes. However, since the launch of the project in September 2011, it has been met with heavy criticism from a number of Moroccan organisations, who have joined together to form the “Stop TGV” collective. Their main objection is the cost of the project, which amounts to 25 billion dirhams (around €2.5 billion), which many see as an astronomical amount of money for a country which ranks 130 on the Human Development Index. They also argue that many regions of Morocco aren’t yet served by the standard train network.
Demonstration in Rabat calling for an end to the high-speed rail project. Photo published on Facebook by Hicham Belkouch.
Critics of the project are unhappy that it was given the go-ahead without any public consultation meetings or bidding process. A French company, Alstrom, was given the contract for the construction of 14 high-speed trains. The project is being financed with loans from France and several of the Gulf states.
The National Railways Office claims that the existing line between the two cities, currently used by 3.5 million people per year, has reached saturation point. They predict that the new line will be able to accommodate up to 6 million travellers per year, and argue that it will create new jobs and help boost the economy.
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"With €2.5 billion, we could build 16,000 km of roads in rural areas, 25,000 schools, 16,000 libraries, and 25 university hospitals"
Alae Bennani, who lives in Casablanca, is a member of the "Stop TGV" collective. On Sunday, he took part in the protest in the streets of Rabat.
“There were about 300 of us protesting in Rabat on Sunday [RFI reported a total of 500 demonstrators in the dozen or so cities who participated in the protests]. “Stop TGV” was joined by other non-governmental organisations who wanted to attend the demonstration. [Activists from the anti-establishment February 20th Movement also took part in some of the protests]. People were chanting “I love my country, I don’t want the TGV”, “Le Marzan (the Moroccan authorities) are tyrants forcing the TGV upon us”, or “Give back the billions stolen from the people”.
This is the first time a demonstration like this has taken place since the construction of the train line began in September 2011. Up until Sunday, we’d been trying to get our message across by handing out leaflets and organising conferences and sit-ins. But as time passed and nothing happened, we realised that we needed to take more dramatic action. We used social networks to organise the rallies, which were peaceful demonstrations. There were no violent outbursts amongst protesters and the security forces did not intervene.
Flag carried by a protestor in Rabat. Photo published on Facebook by Hicham Belkouch.
The high-speed rail project is a shocking waste of money. In rural areas, but also in some urban areas, the lack of public transport prevents children from going to school. The “Stop TGV” accountants have calculated that €2.5 billion could pay for the construction of 16,000km of roads in rural areas, 25,000 schools, 16,000 libraries, and 25 university hospitals. Morocco needs roads, schools, libraries, and hospitals. In Agadir, which is a big city, there isn’t a single university hospital. Spending such excessive amounts on this high-speed rail project could damage the country’s economy for years to come.
A demonstrator holding up a sign with an anti-TGV message. Photo published on Facebook by Hicham Belkouch.
The authorities should have held a referendum on the new high-speed train service. The truth is that this train line is for the rich, and only a handful of Moroccans will benefit from it.