The New York Times

By Aida Alami

April 18, 2012

CASABLANCA — The Moroccan government’s cherished ambition to build a fast train linking its major cities is running into trouble.

The plan has provoked a debate not only about the wisdom of the project but also about what form development should take in a country as poor as Morocco: Should it be embracing potentially transforming technology or should it stick to basics like building schools and hospitals?

The high-speed rail link would be built with French help. It would link the country’s economic center, Casablanca, with the capital, Rabat, and Tangier, in the north. The project, expected to cost $4 billion, is to be financed by French loans and donations from Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia…Last October, Cap Democracy Morocco released a 30-page report analyzing the project’s economics and enabling Moroccan citizens to judge its merits for themselves. The report was written by Ahmed Damghi, a 25-year-old engineering student in Paris, who interned at Alstom and Veolia, both major French companies. He believes that the country could get a much better value by adjusting the existing system rather than undergoing a high-technology makeover that is unnecessary.

“Nobody can predict if it is going to be profitable or not,” Mr. Damghi said. “The decision should be made after a public debate and in a democratic manner.”

He noted that the bid had been awarded to Alstom without a competitive tender, even though there are other high-speed rail makers in Germany and Japan. The motivation, he argued, was to cozy up to France. “We all know that there are diplomatic motivations for this project,” said Mr. Damghi, “but they are not enough to justify undertaking a project that profits a small minority.” Read more.