Africa’s first high-speed train recently opened in Morocco, and is now the continent’s fastest railway line. For travelers visiting Morocco to get a glimpse of the past, now get a flash of the future. These state of the art trains travel along the Atlantic coast of Morocco giving riders the ability to cut a ride, which usually takes five hours, to only 120 minutes.

An Introduction to Morocco’s High-Speed Train

Morocco’s high-speed train opened to the public in the summer of 2018. It is a project that, according to CNN, took ten years to develop. In support of Morocco, Kuwait, the UAE, France, and Saudi also contributed to funding the train that required 2 billion dollars to make.

The route runs from the city of Tangier to Casablanca. With stops in Kenitra and also the capital city of Rabat. The entire trip takes only two hours, as the train runs 200 miles an hour over the distance of about 339 km (or 210,644834 miles). The other ONCF train, in comparison, takes at least five hours for the same journey.

Ticket prices vary according to how far ahead seats are booked, just like flying. Booking for certain times in the week is, as well, generally more expensive. Additionally, there are separate price-points for first and second class. First-class has a cafeteria and other perks like exchange or reimbursement should you miss your departure. Second class tickets are divided into categories like semi-flex, flex, and no flex, which offer their own variations of options in the case of an exchange or a missed departure. You can choose your seating from options like window placement, facing other passengers, or by the aisle. Prices average around 20 or 30 dollars, again depending booking. Tickets can be bought online or at the station up to three months in advance.

The Controversy and Criticism

Morocco is still a developing nation, so it has areas that need serious funding and attention like unemployment or education, where students study in overcrowded classes. Many people view installing a high-speed train as inappropriate use of funds, considering the number of neglected issues the country faces. While the train may attract international business opportunities that may indeed ignite further progress for Morocco. Some say that investors actually find real societal reform more appealing than high-end projects.

Regardless of the start-up costs, advanced technology serves as an achievement for the African country. Although, critics have deemed the high-speed train a prestige project for the country some still classify as third-world. The multi-billion-dollar transportation system can be seen as masking the nation’s unstable health and human rights issues. However, some say the country’s advancements, like Casablanca’s skyscrapers, bring the ancient land of Morocco into the modern world.

Because Morocco is so old that a high-tech train seems incongruent. Morocco is rich in history, which might explain why the cultural attitude toward time implies that there is an abundance. There is generally little pressure to rush from one place to another, so the train contrasts the local lifestyle. A native Marrakesh told The Guardian, “Why would I need to get from Casablanca to Tangier in less than four hours?” he asks. “Moroccans spend four hours sitting in a cafe. If we want to travel, we have time.” Furthermore, people around the world want to travel to Morocco for its old medinas and traditions, which are very much still alive in the Internet Age. 

Despite the controversy, the website for the National Office of Railroads (ONCF) claims that the train has significant benefits, including increasing mobility between Europe and Morocco, which enhances revenue from industries like tourism. Other benefits reportedly include the employment of 5,000 people with 1,500 jobs created. Allegedly, the train has enabled Morocco to erect 4 more schools, to reduce 20,000 tons of CO2 emissions, to build 250 homes, and to diminish the county’s astronomical amount of traffic accidents.

In Morocco, traffic accidents are the 7th cause of death, just after 6 natural causes (heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimers, influenza, and kidney disease). In October 2018, one of ONCF’s older trains derailed, injuring 86 and killing 6.


My Review as Both a Traveller and a Local

I took a round-trip on the high-speed train from Tangier to Rabat with the goal of returning the same day. Six days before the trip, I looked over prices that averaged $16 each way. The next day, I saw a rise in the prices, so I purchased tickets five days in advance and paid roughly 40 dollars for 2nd class seats. My trip was on a Monday. I had help interpreting the information on the site from a friend, who let me know that I only needed to show the email they sent after I bought the tickets.

I had previously taken the older train from Tangier to Marrakech, which was an unglamourous overnight ride, even with a first-class ticket. The new, 37 million-dollar station in Tangier felt nothing like the stop I had waited at before. The new station has several shops and the city’s only Starbucks, which always reminds me of America. There several waiting areas, all equipped with the schedule, were virtually empty. About a half-hour before my departure, I went into the special waiting area for people who’d be leaving soon, which was smaller and packed full. When it was time to board, an employee called for us in Arabic and French.

An employee stood by each door, checking tickets. I went down to the last couple of doors and entered, where I sat in the square seats that faced other passengers. At the end of the car was a screen that showed where we were. Which was helpful because there isn’t wifi and the ride flew by. It was smooth and quiet, unlike my overnight trip to Marrakech. Though the high-speed doesn’t go that far south, I think it’s far more pleasant to take the fast train to Casa and then get to Marrakech a different way.

When I got to Rabat, leaving the train was as easy as boarding. Morocco isn’t a place where people tend to form lines. So I have two years of experiencing the aggressive pushing and competitively calling out for the attention of whoever is behind a counter. This tendency also contrasts the cultural attitude that there is rarely a need to rush. The fast train was different in that people waited patiently for each other.

The station in Rabat mimicked Tangier, except that two main exits led to different streets. I chose a side that had a lineup of taxis.

I ended up spending less time wandering through Rabat than I expected to, so later I went to the customer service representative to exchange my ticket. There was hardly a line. When I got to the next available representative, he didn’t speak English, so he told me to wait for the next one over. I paid the difference, which was about a dollar and a half. Lastly, I signed a receipt with a made-up passport number since I didn’t have it on hand. I took the next train out back to Tangier.

Overall, it was such a smooth trip and more peaceful than taking the bus. My main worries were based on the question: how safe is this train, really? I’ve known Morocco to have taxi drivers who refuse to slow down mountain roads and continue to text while driving a stick shift. However, while safety precautions aren’t always a priority on Moroccan roads, I believe the new train is well-protected as there is a lot of prestige and hope riding on the success of this transportation system.

Story by Teresa Lynn

Born a Navy brat in San Diego, California, and a nomad ever since, Teresa Lynn Hasan-Kerr earned a bachelor’s degree in English with an Emphasis in Creative Writing and a minor in French at Webster University in Saint Louis, MO.  Soon after graduating, she moved to Morocco, where she currently resides as an EFL teacher and writer.

Morocco is one of the trendiest travel destinations in the world right now, with thousands of tourists flocking to the country to explore its winding medinas and admire its unique architecture. You can read more on Northern Morocco in our Exclusive City Guide.


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