Express Train To Prosperity

Written by Mouchili Mayoua in association with Saliou Lo

“Dakar, the capital of Senegal, faces a transportation crisis. The number of motor vehicles in the city is growing at a rate of over 8% per year. Only 10% of the population in Dakar owns a car while 76% of the population use some form of mass transit, facing regular traffic congestion and a poor-quality service. The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) contributed EUR 300 million towards a new mass transit system, replacing the old railway line and constructing pedestrian foot bridges and road bridges for traffic to link both sides of the railway corridor. The new mass transit system has improved the lives of thousands of Dakar’s commuters, while reducing transport pollution and creating new jobs.”

Dakar is the political, economic and cultural capital of the Republic of Senegal and is home to four million people, who make up a quarter of Senegal’s population. This paradox of 25% of the Senegalese population living on just 0.28% of the national territory results in high pressure on land occupation, high costs of housing, a concentration of all services and activities (port, business, banking, administration) in a small area, and major transportation problems – all of which impact negatively on the country’s economy.

Specifically, Dakar faces a transportation crisis. The number of motor vehicles in the city is growing at a rate of over 8% per year. Although only 10% of the population in Dakar owns a car, these people occupy the majority of the city’s scarce road space, while the 76% of the population that uses some form of mass transit faces worsening traffic congestion and a poor-quality service. 

Every morning, thousands of people commute from the city’s suburbs and surrounding area to downtown Dakar, where most economic activities are concentrated. A reverse movement happens in the evening. Consequently, each year, hundreds of thousands of hours of economic productivity are lost and cases of severe respiratory illness increase steadily. Demand for transport is very high and exceeds the capacity of the transport infrastructure and services. 

Dakar’s density makes it well suited to a middle-distance mass transit system. The Government of Senegal has therefore made improving public transportation in the Dakar metropolitan area a priority and has initiated two large projects: the Regional Express Train (TER) and a bus rapid transit (BRT) system. 

The BRT system will allow modern, high-capacity buses running in a reserved lane. It will pass through 14 municipalities on the west side of Dakar and aims to transport 300,000 passengers per day and reduce travel time from 95 minutes to 45 minutes. 

On the east side of the city, considering the number of people to be served and the distances to cover, a fast, efficient train system – the TER – is being established. The TER and BRT projects will be connected by new bus services linking the stations to allow the population quick access to these new modes of transport. 

The TER project comprises a railway link between downtown Dakar and the new urban center of Diamniadio – a distance of 36 km (Phase I). In future, the project will also link to the Blaise Diagne International Airport, a distance of 19 km (Phase II). Existing rail facilities are being replaced with four tracks: two electrified standard gauge tracks dedicated to passenger transport, which will replace the current train service; a metric track for freight; and a strip of land reserved for developing a maintenance and service track, which could be used in future to construct a fourth track. 

In addition, the project is building railway infrastructure (bridges, platforms, earthworks, maintenance facilities for rolling stock, etc.) and electrical systems (power, signals, telecommunication, ticketing, etc.) and constructing or renovating 14 railway stations. 

IsDB contributed EUR 300 million to Phase I of the TER project. This funding has supported replacing the old railway line and the construction of pedestrian foot bridges and road bridges for traffic to link both sides of the railway corridor. 

Phase I of the project has achieved its goals and changed the Dakar landscape: once testing is complete, the new trains will reduce travel time between downtown Dakar and Diamniadio from 1.5 hours (2015) to 0.5 hours. With six trains per hour (one train every 10 minutes) and a top speed of 160 km per hour, transporting 115,000 passengers a day in safe, comfortable conditions, the TER is a mass transport system that meets international standards in terms of urban mobility. Phase I of the TER project will serve 13 stations and stops between Dakar and Diamniadio. The 14th station – at Blaise Diagne International Airport – will be operational at the end of Phase II. 

The TER project also achieves socio-economic profitability. Completed socio-economic studies have shown that Phase I alone achieves an internal rate of return of between 11.9% and 14.9%. The individual stations will help revitalize their locations, promoting the emergence of related economic activities around the TER. 

The development of the Regional Express Train middle-distance mass transit system has improved the lives of thousands of Dakar’s commuters, while reducing transport pollution and creating jobs. The project has helped create new trades and vocations in the railway industry, and approximately 3,000 young Senegalese have been recruited during the construction and operation phases. People appreciate the changes the project has made to their life in terms of the quality of infrastructure, transport options, time saving and business opportunities. 

Finally, the TER is an electric train, meaning it is less polluting, quieter and cheaper to run. It contributes five times less pollution than cars and will help reduce air pollution in Dakar by an estimated 17,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year. 

The success of the TER project is the result of close collaboration and partnership between Senegal’s partners, including IsDB, the Government of France, the French Development Agency, and the African Development Bank (AfDB). IsDB has already committed to supporting the financing of Phase II of the TER project to connect with Blaise Diagne International Airport. 

The TER has been a landmark project for the Senegal urban transport sector and has attracted a high-profile visit from the President of the Republic of Senegal, Macky Sall, and the presidents of IsDB and the AfDB.

During this visit, the President Macky Sall, declared, “This is my legacy for future generations.”