I rode Africa's first superfast bullet train that could go from New York to Washington DC in 90 minutes, and I understand why it's controversial
- Morocco recently unveiled the first high-speed railway system in Africa, which connects the coastal city of Tangier with the capital, Rabat, and Casablanca, the country's business hub. Eventually, it will travel to the tourist destinations of Marrakech and Agadir.
- Last month I rode the train roughly the distance between New York and Washington DC in two hours. The ride, which takes over five hours on conventional rail, will eventually be cut down to 90 minutes.
- I found the experience delightful, with cheap first-class tickets, plush comfortable seats, air-conditioned cabins, plenty of leg room, and an interior design that evoked the golden age of rail.
- While the $2 billion train system is impressive, it's hard not to think of the robust public debate currently happening in Morocco, which has left some critics questioning the economic viability of the train.
People often visit Morocco for a glimpse of the past.
There are snake charmers and monkey tamers putting on a show for tourists in the central square of Marrakech and winding labyrinths of the country's old medinas. There are remote mountain villages that make you feel like the first foreigner to have ever stepped inside and golden, timeless seas of sand.One thing most people don't visit Morocco for, however, is a glimpse of the future. The Moroccan government and its king, Mohammed VI, are hoping that will soon change with the opening of a high-speed rail system.
Opened in November after over a decade in development, the Al Boraq is Africa's first high-speed train. Morocco is hoping that foreign investors and Moroccans will look to the project as evidence that the country is on the fast-track to progress. Whether that is actually the case or not is up for debate.
"In French, it's called les grands chantiers, the closest translation of which is 'grand design'," Zouhair Ait Benhamou, a PhD candidate at Paris Nanterre University who studies big ticket projects like Morocco's high-speed rail, told The Guardian last month.
For some Moroccans, the train is an expensive folly whose funds would have been better spent on overcrowded schools or the overtaxed medical system. For others, the belief is that the benefits of having futuristic infrastructure will "trickle down" to the rest of Morocco. Only time will tell.
After riding similar trains in China, Russia, and Korea, I knew I had to give Morocco's version a try. Here's what it was like to ride first-class from Tangier to Casablanca.