Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Rolling Into Modernity: Senegal’s Express Régional

By Stijn Mitzer
Countries across the African continent are becoming increasingly aware of the need for efficient public transportation. 2018 witnessed the inauguration of the first high-speed rail line in Morocco, with four more African countries set to follow Morocco's example. In 2021, Senegal made great strives towards more efficient public transport when it inaugurated the Train Express Régional (TER) commuter rail service, which seeks to connect the capital Dakar with the country's new international airport. TER uses modern Alstom trains with an operating speed of 160km/h.
The primary goal of the Train Express Régional is to better connect the capital - where most of the country's economic activity is concentrated - with other parts of Senegal. Work on the TER began in late 2016 with the French groups Equans and Thales responsible for electrification and signaling and a consortium associating Eiffage with the Turkish company Yapi Merkezi responsible for the actual construction of the railway. [1] Turkish companies have worked on a great number of projects in Senegal, including the Dakar Congress Center and Blaise Diagne Airport. [1]

The line will have 14 stations along a 55km track with an estimated daily ridership of 115,000 (the population of the Dakar metropolitan area is estimated at nearly 4 million). The first part of the line was inaugurated in December 2021 while the second part of the line that actually connects to Blaise Diagne International Airport is scheduled for completion at the end of 2023, with the project costing an estimated 1.3 billion USD. [2] Future extensions to the cities of Thiès and Mbour are scheduled for construction in 2024 at the earliest. 

The eye-catching Dakar railway station dates from 1914 and previously lay abandoned for many years. Thanks to the construction of the TER it again serves as the city's terminus.

The new city of Diamniadio is one of the cities benefiting from the TER service. The development of Diamniadio plays an important role in the Senegalese government's programme that seeks to revitalize the country's economy. The city of Diamniadio aims to ease the population pressure on Dakar yet provide a speedy connection to Dakar through a new 32km express highway, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and the TER service. A ticket for each TER journey costs travellers three dollars. [3] With half of Senegal's population living below the poverty line, that's still expensive for many.
The TER is both Senegal's first electrified line and the first standard gauge line in the country, as the rest of Senegal's rail network uses metre-gauge with a track gauge of (unsurprisingly) one metre. In addition to the two passenger tracks on which the Alstom trains can travel at a speed of up to 160km/h, a dedicated metre-gauge track for cargo trains was laid adjacent to the TER tracks with the option to install one more. This means that existing cargo trains can drive on these tracks without the need to buy new standard gauge rolling stock for cargo operations.

The two standard gauge tracks are seen on the left while the metre-gauge rail for cargo trains and the space for a fourth cargo rail are seen on the right.

The Coradia Polyvalent trains for Senegal are electro-diesel multiple units (EDMUs) designed and produced by Alstom. [4] The train consists of four cars with a maximum capacity of some 400 passengers distributed through first and second class. [5] The EDMUs are equipped with an extensive air conditioning system, a critical component of any form of public transport in this part of Sub-Saharan Africa, yet one that is lacking on most older types of trains. The Coradia Polyvalent's low floor (as commonly found on new generation trains manufactured in Europe) provides easy access on board, particularly for passengers with reduced mobility.

Prior to the inauguration of the TER, Senegal launched the Petit train de banlieue (PTB) commuter rail between Dakar and Thiès in 1987. The PTB service remains active to this day, utilizing air-conditioned DMUs acquired from India in the early 2010s. [6] Despite offering significantly less comfort than the new Coradia Polyvalents EDMUs, these DMUs ironically remain among the most modern trains in the region. This just goes to show the advancements made by the country in the public transport sector. Senegal is also set to introduce Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to the streets of Dakar, replacing poluting mini-buses fighting for space in the contested streets of the country's capital. [7]

Locomotive-hauled passenger carriages like these are still a common sight in Senegal. Similarly to the DMUs utilized by the PTB, these carriages were also sourced from India.

The Train Express Régional propels Senegal to the front of public transportation in Africa and readies the capital Dakar and it sprawling suburbs for decades of future development. It doesn't seem unlikely that new cities are to develop wherever the TER tracks go. With future extensions planning to cover even larger parts of the country, the TER could be a critical asset to further the country's (economic) growth while also easing traffic congestion and decreasing pollution. This years or decades before most other African countries can hope to achieve the same.

[3] Senegal's new commuter train makes inaugural journey from Dakar https://youtu.be/nILd4I8Ec_0
[4] Alstom celebrates Coradia Polyvalent’s first journey in Senegal with APIX https://www.alstom.com/press-releases-news/2019/1/alstom-celebrates-coradia-polyvalents-first-journey-senegal-apix
[7] Senegal wants to introduce electric buses for public transport in the capital by 2025 https://www.africalogisticsmagazine.com/?q=en/content/senegal-wants-introduce-electric-buses-public-transport-capital-2025