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Site visit: Casablanca's new metro

Casablanca's new $1.6bn tramway hails a new dawn for the city

Situated in Sidi Moumen suburb on 7ha of land. It will maintain 37 coupled trams 65m-long, but in prevision of future extensions, it is equipped to re
Situated in Sidi Moumen suburb on 7ha of land. It will maintain 37 coupled trams 65m-long, but in prevision of future extensions, it is equipped to re

Casablanca’s new $1.6bn tramway hails a new dawn in the city’s transport infrastructure. Never before has Morocco’s biggest city had a tramway, and it’s not before time.

Yamurai Zendera attended its inauguration to see history being made. Find out what went into delivering the 31km line and the efforts being made to ensure it keeps running smoothly

Casablanca’s new tramway system marks a major milestone for Morocco’s most populous city. At a final cost of $1.6bn (AED5.9bn), the 31km 48-station line, the longest ever built in one phase, is Casablanca’s first tramway – and by all accounts it’s badly needed. The Y-shaped network connects the congested city from an east to west axis.

Estimated to have the fifth-largest city population in Africa with five million people, Casablanca, like any burgeoning metropolis faces important transport challenges. Road congestion, a lack of public transport, safety, environmental and noise pollution are all issues that need addressing.

Through Casa Transports, the public authority in charge of the tramway network’s construction, the masterplan was twofold. On the surface, it was to have a transport system to move people across the city more efficiently, but more than that, it was to have one that would be a driver for social and economic regeneration.

Youssef Draiss, general director of Casa Transports, told CW about the wider significance of the tramway to the city.

He said: “Casablanca tramway is a real engine to the city, creating a new city dynamic and servicing business areas, public services, trades, tourism and entertainment centres through a mode of transportation that is fast, efficient and environmentally friendly.

The project brings real solutions to the lack of public transportation services as it operates in the suburbs and the city centre.

“Beyond its mere function, Casablanca tramway is also a political project that is part of a whole plan of the city’s development. The main objective is to upgrade Casablanca to the level of the worldwide metropolis, endowed with a modern identity, proud of its heritage and strengthening social cohesion.

“The social aspect is a dominant feature in the project. The tramway is in fact a unifying component of the city, connecting various neighbourhoods from Sidi Moumen suburb to Ain Diab coast, the city centre, main educational facilities, main business areas and main train stations.”

Nadia Bouhriz, Casa Transports assistant general manager, said the tramway would be the “first line of a major network”, with studies underway on having four new lines by 2030. On top of this, she said that one of the next steps in the city’s urban transport plan was likely to be focused on building a metro system, although she pointed out that this would be dependent upon budgets.

Quite what Casablanca’s citizens make of a lengthy tramway running through their crowded city is hard to gauge straight off. Now so used to using cars as their default mode of transport within a traffic system that can only be described as chaotic at best, their adaptability to the line will be crucial if it is to run smoothly.

There was certainly no denying that the inauguration by King Mohammed VI on 12 December brought the city to a virtual standstill as tens of thousands of people waited patiently along the route for the ceremonial first journey.

But whether they were there because they were genuinely excited about the tramway or because of the natural buzz created by the ruling monarch coming to town was hard to tell.

Indeed, Bouhriz believes the line cannot be successful without the public’s co-operation. “We found that the people were quite sensitive on the issue of the tramway,” she said. “We understand that we have to raise awareness and educate people now that the tramway is here to stay.”

That Casablanca’s first tramway is here at all is due to the forward planning of the Moroccan authorities. The project was conceived over 26 months before a financing agreement was signed on 21 October 2008 in the presence of the king.

On 27 March 2009 Casa Transports was created, and in 2009 Dubai (Al Safooh) tramway builder Alstom was awarded a contract for the supply of 37 coupled (74 single units) Citadis train sets (although with an eye to future extensions, the tramway has capacity for 50 coupled units).

Two additional contracts were signed in 2010 to design, construct and put into service the signalling for the tramway line and its depot as well as 23 electrical substations.

Alstom worked closely with the Moroccan authorities on the design of the trams. Both parties agreed on the firm’s Citadis range of trams coupled in double units of 65 metres similar in configuration to the train sets already in operation in Rabat.

It is estimated that the trams can carry up to 250,000 passengers daily, and Casa Transports says the tramway construction has generated over 3,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Alstom tramway strategy manager, Loic Dubois, elaborated on the design features of the trams and how they were inspired by Casablanca itself. He said: “The Citadis is fully integrated into Casablanca’s streetscape through a coherent and customised design.

The demand was to have an international tram model, refined, elegant and modern on the outside, in keeping with a modern city undergoing rapid economic development. On the inside, however, the customer wanted a Moroccan-style interior.

Discussions between Alstom’s design and styling bureau and Casa Transports resulted in a Citadis with a rounded, regular and harmonious shape from the front to the rear.

“The colour of the tram – a fine metallic orange – stands out in a bright city like Casablanca and makes Citadis highly visible to people walking or driving in the city.

The tinted windows are surrounded by dark grey, making them visually even larger. In contrast, the interior is in a Moroccan style, featuring Moroccan arts such as Zellighe or the five-pointed stars, traditional ornaments found on walls, ceilings or floors.

Those decorative patterns were placed on the ceiling of the tram as well as on each seat. Globally, the city of Casablanca wanted a tramway which would blend in with the homes of the city’s residents: sober on the outside and warm and welcoming on the inside.”

Casablanca Citadis was manufactured and assembled in France at Alstom’s Reichshoffen
factory where 250 employees worked on the project. The first Citadis left the plant in December 2011 – 24 months after the contract was signed.

The other sites in France that are involved are La Rochelle (engineering), Le Creusot (bogies), Ornans (motors), Villeurbanne (onboard electronics) and Tarbes (traction systems).

At the time of the inauguration 24 of the 37 coupled trams had been delivered, and Dubois told CW that the outstanding fleet would arrive by March 2013 at a rate of one per week. “It means we have no room for failure but this is not a problem for us,” he said. “We have a lot of experience in this kind of work.”

Dubois said that the challenges and lessons learnt from Casablanca tramway are not necessarily transferable to other rail projects in the MENA region as one might think.

“I would say it’s not comparable. If you take for instance Dubai: we are also delivering the tram line but the technical solution is not comparable with what Casa Transports has done here.

“In terms of price; the price per kilometre here is below 20 million euros per kilometre; the line completely equipped with the rolling stock. So it’s cheaper but performances are good, not lower than for other projects. Nevertheless, we have been able to manufacture and build the first line at a very low price compared to what other regions have done.

“The lesson is for other countries like Morocco. Cities that at the beginning thought that they didn’t have the money for a modern tram. Now they can look at Morocco and see that it did it perfectly.”

In July last year, Casa Transports awarded a $121m, five-year contract for the operation and maintenance of the tramway to a consortium led by RATP Dev, a subsidiary of RATP Group. With only five months to get systems and personnel in place before the inauguration, RATP Dev had a real challenge on its hands.

Arnaud Legrand, Casablanca tramway project manager for RATP Dev, said that in order to meet the tight timeframe it deployed an in-house team to hire and train local staff. Some 15 RATP Dev experts were seconded to the project and over 600 operations jobs were created, among which 400 are dedicated to all security aspects.

“They are all part of the success of the tramway,” said Legrand proudly. “We have created a lot of new jobs with a Franco-Moroccan project.”

Working alongside the Moroccan authorities, the firm also developed the operating program and procedures, along with the regulations and maintenance policy. It carried out all technical operating trials and signed off on rolling and non-rolling stock, energy supply facilities, and signalling systems.

Following road tests a dry run of the tramway system was done in partnership with Alstom and Casa Transports in October.

Legrand believes the major operational challenge of the tramway is posed by its unusually long length and Y-shape as well as its congested-city location.

“One specificity is the size of the line: 31km for a tramway is huge.

Also, you have to manage the main line and the branch. So it’s difficult to manage the two parts because you have one common part with headway. One train goes to the left and one train goes to the right, so you have double headway in each branch.

And one branch is about 6km and the second one is 8km, so it’s not very well balanced at the design level, so you have to adjust your regulation of tramway to be sure that one tram will arrive from the north and will arrive at the common part and one train from the south and so on.

“The second specificity is the difficulties of traffic circulation in Casablanca; so we are very focused on this point to ensure the tramway will not be blocked by a crossroad, blocked by the cars or people. It’s very important that we can guarantee the time to go from the point of departure to the end of the line.

Alone we cannot guarantee this; we have to work with the authorities, with the police. We have developed a good relationship with the police. Today around 2,000 policemen are dedicated to the tramway.

All these people will help us, because we also have a responsibility by way of driving the tramway, by way of people on the line to help with good fluidity. So all these components will help to ensure good conditions to operate this tramway.”

RATP Dev has subcontracted the maintenance of the trams fleet and infrastructure to Alstom, marking the first maintenance contract signed between the firms outside France.

Maintenance will be carried out at the Casablanca service and maintenance centre (CEM), a 13,800m2 site that has a capacity for 55 trams. Each Citadis will be subject to preventive and corrective maintenance, including daily inspection visits, and will undergo daily interior and exterior cleaning. Around 70 Alstom employees are involved in this work.

The centre also hosts the traffic management and regulation activity, which monitors each tram in circulation as well as passengers in stations, signalling, real-time information and the catenary system.

Alstom currently employs 40 people in the CEM and says it aims to double that figure within five years. Both Alstom and RATP Dev are keen to have involvement in the tramway beyond the expiry of the current operations and maintenance contract in 2017.

Legrand said: “I hope this is the beginning of our involvement. We would like to be sure that at the end of this contract we are in a good position to convince the authority that we can be the next operator with them.

“We hope to convince them that we are able to do the same thing on the new lines.”
Dubois said: “Alstom has been present in Morocco for over 40 years, supporting the public authorities in their ambitious projects to develop and enhance their railway transport systems.

To be closer to its Moroccan customers, better execute the railway projects and boost local economy development, we have opened sites in Casablanca and Rabat, where we employ about 180 people.”

Urban renovation:
Sidi Mohammed Square main multi-modal exchange
Sidi Mohammed Square, situated in front of main train station Casa Voyageur, illustrates the vocation of the project to enhance the city landscapes and to offer pedestrians dedicated and safe public areas. The square is one of five multimodal exchange poles in the project, for tramway, buses, train and future TGV station.

United Nations Square
In line with the vocation of the project to multiply pedestrian areas, the main city-centre boulevard, Boulevard Mohammed V has been turned into a pedestrian square, thus creating one of the largest pedestrian areas in the city centre.

These measures have been enriched by the restoration of all buildings facades in the area. The unique architectural art deco heritage is enhanced anew, and the city centre is once again an attractive living, business and entertainment area.

Going green
The project has been established with attention to Casablanca’s vegetal heritage. Over 4,000 trees have been planted along a 31km ‘green corridor’.

Electrifying
The tramway runs on electricity, and therefore contributes to lower air pollution. It will also contribute to cutting car traffic in the areas it serves. Being a silent mode of transport, it will reduce sound pollution.

Morocco’s ticket to ride
Morocco has a population of over 32 million people. Despite the economic crisis, the country’s average growth rate is around 5%, according to the IMF. Morocco is experiencing strong demographic growth and is expected to reach 41 million people by 2019.

Morocco’s rail network extends over 2,200km, serving both passenger and freight transport. The network runs like a corridor connecting the major cities and its main ports. Today, 28 million people use rail transport, a 100% increase since 2002.

From mainline to freight and urban, Morocco has a multi-year rail infrastructure development program underway.

The building of 1,500km of very high speed line and the increase of railway freight transportation from 35 to 50 million tons by 2015 constitutes one of the key orientations of the program.

With nearly 60% of the population concentrated in urban areas – compared with only 26% in 1950 – mobility within Moroccan cities has become a key priority.

Road congestion, inadequacy of means of transport and environmental and safety issues are the main problems to be solved. To address them, Morocco has launched several mass transportation projects aimed at providing modern, reliable, comfortable and environmentally friendly modes of transport.

Citadis trams
The Citadis tram is fully integrated into Casablanca’s streetscape through coherent and customised design. Air conditioning, large tinted glass windows, wide aisles, passenger information displays in Arabic and French and quiet operation have all been specifically designed to ensure optimal travel conditions.

The trams created are modern on the outside, in keeping with a city undergoing rapid economic development. On the inside, a Moroccan-style interior has been created. Discussions between Alstom and Casa Transports resulted in a Citadis with a rounded, regular and harmonious shape from the front to the rear.

Alstom’s other ongoing projects in Morocco

• Fourteen Euroduplex trains for the Tangier-to-Casablanca line
• Two-year maintenance contract for seven BB36000 electric locomotives for the OCP (Cherifian Phosphate Office)
• Three-year technical standardisation contract for 27 E1300/50 electric locomotives
• Maintenance support contract for the entire Alstom fleet, representing 47 E1300/50, 1400 electric locomotives, for a two-year period

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