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Trains in Africa

Africa, like South America, is something of a wasteland for modern rail. Rail systems are sophisticated and modern enough for routine point-to-point internal travel by visitors in only three countries and a fourth country offers some spectacular “land cruise” rail experiences. Beyond those four, you fine some combination of rudimentary rail systems and inhospitable destinations. If you’re a rabid railfan, you can find a handful of other choices, but if you’re an ordinary visitor looking for efficient local transportation, your options are limited. Morocco Morocco enjoys a modern national rail system that connects its key commercial and visitor centers. The trunk line is electrified, trains are fast and comfortable and service is frequent. Morocco is even building a high-speed trunk line from Tangier to Rabat, and existing fast trains can get you to Casablanca, Fes and Marrakech. The Casablanca airport has a rail link to downtown. Check oncf.ma/Pages/Accueil.aspx for details. Egypt

Rabat, Morocco Ville railway station Rabat, Morocco Ville railway station by Kroc

Although not as modernized as Morocco’s system, Egypt’s rail network allows visitors to journey easily among the main centers in the northern area—Alexandria, Cairo, Port Said, Suez—with frequent trains, some of which carry modern air-conditioned coaches. In addition, you can take all-day or all-night trains down the Nile Valley from Cairo to Luxor and Aswan—not the fastest way, but certainly the most scenic. WWII North African desert campaign history buffs can travel by train from Alexandria or Cairo to Mersa Matruh and El Alamein. Beyond those, service options drop, and you can’t reach such key vacation centers as Hurghada or Sharm-el-Sheikh by rail at all. Check enr.gov.eg/ticketing/public/login.jsf for details.

Tunisia

Like Morocco, Tunisia enjoys a modern rail system that visitors can use to travel among the country’s main visitor centers. Service on busy routes is frequent, with 20-21 daily trains from Tunis to Sousse, Nobel and Monastir-Mahdia, and a dozen or more to Sfax, Hammamet and Beja. Some of the busy routes are one-meter narrow gauge, including what is supposed to be the fastest narrow-gauge rail system in the world. Tunisian Railways also offers a Carte Bleu railpass, 56 dinar (about $30) for seven days of train travel in the top class. Also, a light rail system runs from Tunis to the ruins of Carthage. The system’s website is at sncft.com.tn/index.php; French or Arabic only; the English site is “under construction.”

South Africa

Most of the rail focus in South Africa is on luxury-train “land cruises,” of which the Blue Train is the most famous. Its main route is between Cape Town and Pretoria. It also occasionally makes charter trips to other destinations. Check bluetrain.co.za/ for details.

Rovos Rail operates a much more extensive set of luxury-train routes, from Pretoria to Cape Town and Durban, as well as longer excursions to neighboring Namibia, Victoria Falls and occasionally northward through Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia to Dar es Salaam. For details check rovos.com/.

Metro Services

The metro areas of Algiers, Cairo, Cape Town, Casablanca, Durban, Johannesburg and Durban are served by some combination of metro and suburban rail. Alexandria, Algiers, Casablanca, Constantine, Oran, Rabat and Tunis have local tram systems.

Ed Perkins, editor

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