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Tramways of North Africa

Mike Russell, 21st February 2017

Mike's presentation divided neatly into two parts with the first covering the modern systems in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia that he visited in 2014. In complete contrast the second part dealt with the tramways in Egypt, a country that he had visited a total of four times between 1974 and 2004 and which had had mainly first generation tramways.

Morocco has had tramways in Casablanca, the largest city, since December 2012 and since May 2011 in the capital Rabat. Casablanca has some 33km of route worked by back-to-back pairs of Citadis cars and has ambitious plans for further expansion beyond the present very long route with two branches at its western end. In Rabat there are two routes totalling 19km worked with either back-to-back pairs of singled ended Citadis cars or a smaller number of double ended cars running solo. In both cities the trams run through a mixture of interesting neighborhoods with some very scenic sections in Rabat including a tram-only cut through the wall of the old city. In previous times Casablanca did not have trams but there were trolleybuses from 1932 to 1972. Similarly Rabat never had a first generation electric system but it did have a steam tramway from 1917 to 1930. Further systems are planned at Fez, Meknes and Marrakesh although the last may be a new trolleybus system.

Algeria has had new tramways in Oran since May 2013, Algiers since May 2011 and Constantine since July 2013. As in Morocco all of them use Citadis articulated cars with different liveries in each city and each one currently has just one line. Oran's line is 18.7km long and has double ended cars in red and white while that in the capital at Algiers is 23.2km long with blue and white seven section double ended cars. The final Algerian system at Constantine is in a very hilly and historic city and is currently 8.9km long with an extension under construction; its fleet of double ended cars is in a green and white livery. A major civil engineering work in Constantine was a 465m long viaduct connection to the university quarter of the city. A further seven systems are in the planning phase with all but one being in the north of the country.

To conclude the first half of the presentation Mike turned to Tunis where a new system has been in use since 1985; the first generation here having operated from 1900 to 1960. The new system has much more of a light rail feel than the other places seen previously. It has grown to a network of six routes covering around 43km. Having started operation with a large fleet of high floor Siemens cars similar to the Hannover Stadtbahn design more recent deliveries have been of the Citadis low floor design. Most services here are worked by coupled sets.

The second part of Mike's presentation described one system surviving against the odds and three others having now declined to a very sad remnant of a once very large network.

The survivor is the standard gauge network in Alexandria that has only been reduced slightly in extent since 1974 although the fleet has undergone quite a few changes. A substantial number of the ex Copenhagen Düwag articulated cars remain in use on the city lines but all of the pre-WW2 PCCs from Toronto have been displaced by newly-built Japanese and Hungarian cars from Japan. On the interurban lines from Ramlh Station to El Nasr (Victoria) the older stock had British antecedents and had been augmented with some ex Toronto cars. However all have been swept away by Japanese stock that incredibly includes some double-deck cars that run coupled together with pairs of single deckers to form three-car sets.

The situation in the Cairo area is much worse with the adjacent and interlinked metre gauge Cairo and Heliopolis systems having undergone great changes followed by a fairly rapid decline. Cairo's older Belgian cars were replaced by large numbers of PCCs from Los Angeles and then even more new articulated Tatra cars but both types had very short lives as they were beyond the capabilities of the undertaking to maintain them. Both Cairo and Heliopolis then turned to Japanese stock but in Cairo severe traffic congestion probably told against their survival. Although the vast majority of the Heliopolis lines were on reservation they have also been very largely abandoned with only a very small rump still believed to be in operation.

A detached system in Helwan, well to the south of Cairo, was built as a Metro feeder and ran from 1981 to 2011. The area served was not an attractive one to say the least with rubbish strewn tracks running alongside scrap yards and one route being cutback at an overflowing sewer.

Mike's excellent presentation showed us a great variety of locations and types of rolling stock. It was the result of many trips over a long period of time as well as careful research and considerable effort in its production; those present heartily thanked Mike for all of his efforts.

Geoffrey Tribe

London Area - 21st February 2017

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