Interview: Yacine Bendjaballah
How are strategies to develop and revitalise the rail sector affecting Algeria’s infrastructure?
YACINE BENDJABALLAH: It is important to make passengers love the train again, and for the voice of the user to be paramount. We have major efforts to undertake, but we are hoping to make taking the train easy and comfortable. As of 2014 we have transported 32.7m passengers. With our current investments to expand networks and make rail travel easier, we hope to achieve a ridership of 87m by 2019. This is part of the ambitious strategy to expand the rail network from its current 3100 km to 12,500 km by 2025.
A key part of this strategy is to link Algeria’s remote regions to the rail network. Important efforts are also being made to link the train to key ports. By doing so, we can greatly improve the fluidity of port traffic. Additionally, as hydrocarbons revenues have fallen, Algeria is looking to reinvigorate its mining industry; the train will play a key role in the development of this sector, given the distances that mineral resources must cover. Currently, trains in eastern Algeria are already helping to move important amounts of mineral resources around the region.
In order to expand our capacity and follow the growth of the rail network, we are acquiring new trains and also restoring many older ones. For instance we have purchased 30 diesel locomotives, 14 of which will be dedicated to passenger transport, and 16 of which will be dedicated to freight. In parallel, we are restoring many trains, which will allow us to become more efficient when it comes to the future of our maintenance needs.
What is the impact of the development of the rail network in Algeria?
BENDJABALLAH: Developing the train network has both a positive social and economic impact. First, we can see that shipping costs are greatly reduced as the train is roughly 25 times cheaper than road transport given the greater possibilities for bulk shipping. Second, there is an important environmental aspect, as the train has been shown to be more ecological than other alternatives. For instance, we have seen that overland transport using lorries emits 13 times more CO than the train. Third, it helps Algeria reduce pressure on its overland transport infrastructure; today in Algeria lorries and other transport vehicles clog the roads, create congestion and are frequently overloaded, which ultimately damages the roads. There is a final and very important aspect, which is that by removing large trucks off of Algeria’s roads we can greatly improve safety for regular motorists.
What are the prospects for foreign partnerships?
BENDJABALLAH: The importance of the extension and modernisation of the Algerian railway system prompted us to seek out partners. Ultimately, the French SNCF Group was chosen, with which we have a close railway culture, and which we will rely on to give another dimension to the Algerian railway and to help build additional capacity in order to improve the competitiveness of the national economy.
We have also recently signed a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Swiss company Stadler, which has been servicing trains in Algiers since 2006. The new MoU is intended to establish a partnership for the maintenance and eventually the assembly of trains in Algeria. This MoU should help to build the industrial fabric of Algeria, by working with local subcontractors and providing them with the resources they need to become important economic actors in their own right.
SNTF subsidiaries are actively pursuing partnerships with foreign firms. Our subsidiary, Rail Télécom Spa, has signed a partnership this year with the Austrian company KAPSCH for the creation of a joint venture that specialises in equipment for a digital telecommunications network for the national railway.
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