Project in Profile: Dakar’s Train Express Régional

Photo from African Shapers

In December of 2017, all commercial airline flights flying into Dakar, Senegal, moved to the all new Blaise Diagne International Airport. The new airport represented a huge upgrade from the old Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport and offered much more space for passengers and additional capacity for airlines. Interestingly, as a part of the Emerging Senegal Plan spearheaded by president Macky Sall, along with the new airport came an investment into one of the first high-frequency, modern trains not only in the country of Senegal, but in the whole of West Africa.

“File:Aéroport international Blaise Diagne.jpg” by DIOP BARKA is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The Train Express Régional, referred to as the TER, will serve as both a commuter train for those traveling into the bustling capital city of Dakar and as an airport express train taking people to the new Diagne Airport, which is located 43 (27 mi) kilometers southeast of downtown Dakar. The train is scheduled to be completed in two stages — the first stage is already complete, traveling from Dakar to the suburb of Diamniado. The second phase, which is currently under construction and, barring no delays, slated to open later this year, will extend the line to the newly constructed airport. The train will use 15 modern dual-mode (can alter between diesel and electric) Alstom Coradia Polyvent Trainsets that can travel up to 160 kph/99 mph. Given the population of the Dakar metropolitan area (over 3 million people), the implications of this project will be enormous.

Stations Stops and Route Map (stop data from Moovit):

  • Dakar
  • Hlm V
  • Hann
  • Yarakh
  • Baux Maraichers
  • Pikine Ouest
  • Thiaroye
  • Quartier Demba Seck
  • Fass Mbao
  • Rufisque
  • Bargny
  • Diamniadio
  • Blaise Diagne International Airport (Phase 2, late 2020)
Route Map | Photo from Arcgis
Photo by Francesca Noemi Marconi on Unsplash

The TER train is expected to carry 115,000 passengers per day with that number rising to over 200,000 per day by 2025. This is a significant number. For context, the TER would be the 7th busiest commuter rail system in the United States, just behind the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston’s 121,000 riders per weekday. However, the TER is a relatively short, single line and thus it’s ridership per mile would be 4x higher than any commuter rail system in the entire United States.

With such high usage, the TER train would make traveling to and from Dakar much more seamless and spur significant development along the line. According to the African Development Bank Group, the TER route travels through some of the most impoverished communities in the Dakar region, which means that the rail line will be nearby and can help bring better jobs and resources to those areas. More importantly, the rail line will cut driving times by on average 45 minutes into Dakar and make big gains in relieving congestion along Dakar motorways. This will significantly curb accident rates and will save people hours in commuting time, not to mention the environmental benefits coming from reduced CO2 emissions as a result of modal shift from cars to trains (19,000 tonnes per year). The benefits to commuters and those in poverty will be immense.

Senegal, according to many metrics, is still quite low in terms of quality of life and human development. According to the 2019 report, Senegal ranks 166th out of 189 countries with a human development score of 0.514, which is categorized as low. For comparison, the highest HDI belongs to Norway with a score of 0.954.

The TER train will have overwhelmingly positive impacts when it comes to human development. Senegal will be the first country in West Africa with a modern, high frequency train line (some cities such as Abidjan in Cote D’Ivoire have metro, but no train). The train line will spread economic activity and wealth away from Dakar and into the outlying areas; currently 66% of Senegal’s economic activity is based in Dakar which has caused the previously mentioned congestion and socio-economic issues. The TER will help alleviate those issues. Moreover, the construction and implementation of the project is expected to create at least 10,000 direct jobs. Rural areas around the Dakar metropolitan area will be connected with higher paying jobs and better resources, which can help transform the lives of those in poverty.

Dakar’s rural suburbs also have had longstanding issues when it comes to mobility. A lack of quality roads or roads in general have made mobility out of communities increasingly difficult and the TER train will be revolutionary as it will increase mobility within rural communities. Increased mobility of rural communities will be crucial in aiding Senegal’s development and getting the Senegalese out of poverty. Residents will have more access to education among other services.

The frequently cited argument made against the TER has been its cost—around 1 billion euros for construction with debt maintenance of 40,000 euros annually. The train is worth the cost, especially given the debt maintenance caused by Dakar’s horrid traffic congestion is over 151,000 euros per year. Moreover, the project ultimately saves money for Senegal based on the lower debt owed over time.

Photo by Victor Rutka on Unsplash

The TER train is a perfect example of an extraordinarily impactful project that emerged from big investments in transportation. Other countries could reap major rewards from similar kinds of projects and policymakers shouldn’t be scared to spend money on transportation projects. There are examples of China working with other African countries to develop transit as a part of the Belt and Road Initiative, such as Addis Ababa’s light rail. However, those projects with China often result in strangulating debt for those countries; Senegal, by working with France for the most part on this project, is actively avoiding this outcome. This project will be a game changer for Senegal and for the West Africa region as a whole and it will be very interesting to see the positive benefits in the near future.

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Jack Turner

Jack Turner

HS senior; I have interests in transit, sports, aviation, politics, progressivism, and everything in between.