Tangier Inaugurations: From Steam Train to TGV

TALIM First train in Tangier 1920s Angus collection
First train arrives in Tangier's Charf Station, 1920s

Print from Donald Angus Collection of glass negatives, No. 86

TALIM library, Tangier American Legation

Yesterday's ceremony to mark the start of construction of Africa's newest TGV or high speed train line brought French President Nicolas Sarkozy and King Mohammed VI to Tangier.  As a relatively frequent client of Morocco's ONCF, I welcome the chance to shave hours off what can be a slow train ride to the capital Rabat or commercial center Casablanca.

The new TGV will be revolutionary, getting travelers to Tangier from Rabat in well under two hours.  That will help us here at TALIM, making our research center more accessible to scholars who also conduct their work in the capital city.

Morocco was not Africa's first country to build a train line, but in 1938 an English traveler like Winifride Wrench, writing in the Journal of the Royal African Society, could marvel at the change since her first visit to Tangier in the early 1900s, when foreigners were still prey to kidnappers and she dared not venture to the outskirts of the city:

… I stepped aboard the train, leaving Tangier at 7:00 a.m. with a light heart.  At last I should be able to see what lay beyond.  Shortly after lunch the train steamed into a palatial station with a white marble staircase and I emerged into the sunshine, into a clean white Franco-Moroccan town, a little Paris in an African setting, all white and green and gleaming.

Wrench's colonial glee over the French Protectorate notwithstanding, there is still something reassuring about arriving in Rabat after a somewhat slow but entirely comfortable ride from Tangier.  Independent Morocco kept the French-built rail system, and now the latest move towards TGV shows that the country is committed to modernizing its infrastructure.  Rabat boasts a gleaming new tram network.

With two modern ports, autoroutes to the south and the east, and now the TGV, Tangier is set to capitalize on its expansion that started with the reign of Mohammed VI.  The trains already run on time, but now they'll run even faster.

Gerald Loftus

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