Conference PaperPDF Available

Libyan Railway: A Gateway to Europe

Libyan Railway: A Gateway to Europe
Dr. Rajab Abdullah Hokoma,
Faculty of Engineering, University of Tripoli, Libya, e-mail:
Dr. S. P. Bindra, Elmergeb University, Garabouli Branch Libya/APCI UNIDO Expert
The paper is designed to present that how a new era in Libyan Rail- a gateway to Europe has
begun by the decision to implement the first two sections of a planned 3170 km railway to
achieve the targeted goals of carrying out the railway project in Libya.
The objective is to demonstrate that how Libyan dreams to revitalize African economy is being
realized by this ambitious project that will plug the missing link in North Africa's rail network
and could one day provide rail connections to African landlocked countries to the south of Libya.
It shows that how an integrated rail transport for sustainable livelihood of Libyan with social economic
and environmental benefits is able to provide a win-win situation both for Libya and its neighboring
Keywords: Libyan Rail, Gateway, Europe, African Economy, Integrated Rail Transport
1. Introduction
Rail Transport is key to sustained success and economic development in an efficient, reliable and
effective system. Rail travel is a crucial part of the Libyan transport system and with the
increased demand for passenger travel and movement of freight to revitalize the African
economy a cherished dream of Libya. It is potentially the most environmentally sustainable
transport mode. Libya is determined to link Africa and Europe and has begun the first phase by
bridging the North African gap: Libya is forging ahead with plans to build a line that will
connect its eastern and western borders, filling an important gap in the North African rail
network. This is in line with the policy initiated way back in April 2006 to alleviate the
challenges; the African Transport Ministers responsible for railways came up with the
Brazzaville Declaration. The Brazzaville Declaration is a clear demonstration of African
Governments’ commitment to support investment in railway infrastructure development,
equipment and improvement in operations by providing a sustainable framework to address
current challenges that are militating against railway performance. Libya considers this as
continental consensus and ready to help provide solutions to current transport problems and
challenges facing countries of the region and the railway industry at large so as to achieve
sustainable solutions [1],[2].
As part of the global village, Libya’s contribution will impact positively on Trans Sahara Rail
(TSR) as an integral part of Single African rail system and the whole continent of Africa more so
given that the challenges facing African Scientific Railway Association (ASRA) are similar to
those identified under the Brazzaville Declaration. The Algiers Declaration which was as a result
of the first Session of the African Union Conference of Ministers Responsible for Transport that
took place in Algiers in April 2008 reinforces the important role that railways play in economic
development and the need to revive the sector.
The formation and functioning ASRA is part of the implementation of the Protocol on Transport,
Communications and Meteorology and this being the case challenges facing ASRA organization
are of concern to all. There are high expectations from the Integrated Committee of Ministers
(ICM) on the need for ASRA to benchmark and enforce operational and technical rail service
standards; co-ordinate, evaluate and strategize for regional railway operations; to promote a cost
effective, regionally integrated and efficient seamless rail service in order to stimulate trade
among TSR members and enhance competitiveness in international markets [3],[2]..
The design and management of a fully integrated railway network requires the involvement and
co-ordination of a wide variety of multi-disciplinary professional competence and skills. Libyan
Railway Board is developing the knowledge, skill and ability to mobilize world class project
teams capable of taking peoples’ aspirations and delivering a quality product no matter how large
or small the challenge might be.
Libyan Rail Authority is working on a number of rail station developments all over Libya and
our building design business has acquired and developed an unrivalled expertise in property
development adjacent railway infrastructure and Bridge Stations. We are working closely
“Access for All” programs and with Trains increasing car parking at key station locations.
Networking is being provided to a number of developer and industrial clients in investigating the
feasibility and in progressing schemes for rail freight terminals.
Libyan Railway Board broad multidisciplinary skills would help enable profession to provide a
wide range of specialist engineering skills to this sector. We are learning from best practices
from major projects in the UK, Europe and in Asia to ensure and offer a diverse set of services
from power supply engineering, bridge and structural engineering, tunneling, ground
investigation and environmental management services. We are also conscious of need to offer
asset inspection and management, infrastructure drainage and flood control, level crossings
management and advisory services, passenger information systems, security and CCTV and
remediation services. [1],[4].
Libyan railway authority is determined to add value to rail property assets through development
planning and engineering for railway land and facilities. It is active in all aspects of the rail
sector including multi-modal interchanges, freight transport planning and light rail.
Those impacted by human trafficking may call it as A Gateway to Hell, We in Libya dedicated to
realize the Libyan dream to revitalize the economy of Africa consider it as a Gateway to
Paradise. Libya based on the UNIDO and NEPAD experiences from APCI considers the PPP
mode and recognizes it as one of the most promising and efficient models for rail infrastructure
development. But how many organizations in North Africa know how effectively to plan a PPP
project let alone one specifically for rail to maximize the benefits available and implement them?
What are the issues unique to rail? What implementation issues are unique to North Africa?
These issues are dealt in the main body of this paper.
2. An Appraisal of Railway in Libya
The overview of state of art shows that there have been no operational railways in Libya since
1965, but various lines existed in the past. From historical record let’s present a photograph of
Fiat Railmotor "Littorina" at Tripoli Railway Station.
History shows that nearly 400 km of railways was built in Libya with different rail gauge during
the very early of the last century. The last line was the Tripoli-Benghazi in summer 1941, but in
WWII the project stopped at the beginning. A 950 mm (3 ft 1+3⁄8 in) gauge network centered on
Tripoli was opened from 17 March 1912 as part of the Italian occupation campaign. This
extended from Tripoli 120 km west to Zuara, 100 km south to Garian and 10 km east to Tajura.
A 750 mm (2 ft 5+1⁄2 in) (later 950 mm) gauge railway was built east from Benghazi; the main
route was 110 km long to Barce (now Al Mari) and was opened in stages between 1911 and
1927. Benghazi also had a 56 km branch to Soluch opened in 1926.
Military extensions of some 40 km were made from Barce towards Derna in World War II. This
was the final line to close, at the end of 1965.
The standard gauge Western Desert Extension was built from a junction 10 km east of Matruh
Egypt to Tobruk during WWII to assist in the Allied defense of the area. In 1942 this 350 km
route was completed as part of Allied advance across North Africa. The 125 km Libyan section
west of Sollum was removed after closure from 20 December 1946, though the Egyptian
Railways Sollum branch still sees occasional freight.
Libya established "General Authority for administration and carrying out Railway" according to
the decision No. (103) of General Peoples committee in Elkoms in 1992. During 2000, the name
was changed into "Railway Executive Board" according to the decision No. (221) of General
Peoples committee in 2000. The objective of "Railway Executive Board" (REB) was to prepares
the programs, studies, economical research, designs, technical specifications and plans required
for the project and implement them using the native entities as possible. It prepared the
documents and specifications of contracting. It also prepared a 10 billion dollars five years plan
which after the agreement of General Peoples committee started carrying out the financial and
time schedule which includes civil works, constructions, produce the required materials and
imports of signaling and telecommunication system and Locomotives. Implementation of this
major landmark project is considered as one of 1st of September achievements in Transportation.
The Board has a crucial role in internal and external investment for the native and foreign
companies that would create about (1000000) job opportunities for carrying out Emsaid -Ras
Ejdeer line and (25000) job opportunities for operating [5],[6].
Railway Executive Board has helped in establishing African Scientific Railway Association
(ASRA) to link Libya as a gateway between African continent and Europe. It is being achieved
by building two tracks, running east to west and north to south. The first line will run along the
Mediterranean coast, linking Libya's western border with Tunisia with its eastern border with
Egypt. The second will run southwards through the Sahara desert, linking Libya with Chad and
Niger. Railway Executive Board (REB) is committed to use Built Operation and Transfer
(B.O.T) system to construct the African Railway line which will connect Libyan ports with the
3. Current Railway Development Plans
Libyan Railway Executive Board has an approved plan to build and operate an extensive system
that is now being developed and under construction. There is a plan for an 3170 km 1,435 mm (4
ft 8+1⁄2 in) (standard gauge) network A line parallel to the coast will eventually form part of a
North African link between Tunisia and Egypt. The section from the border with Tunisia at Ras
Ejder, then via Tripoli to Sirt is currently under construction and is planned to open in 2012.
Google Earth reveals (2007-9) progress with the track bed. China Railway Construction
Corporation has contracts to start work in June 2008 on a 352 km route between Sirt and Elkoms,
to be finished by 2013. The east-west line will be double track. Google Earth 2009 images show
renewed progress with the earthworks, including concrete bridges, that have seen no attention
since 2004
A second line will run 800 km from iron ore deposits at Wadi Shati near Sebha to the steel works
and port at Misurata from 2012. A third line will run 554 km from Sirt to Benghazi in the East.
In October 2007, Russian Railways submitted a feasibility study for the project, and in 2008
signed a contract to begin construction which will take 4 years to complete [7],[8].
A Trans-Saharan Rail (TSR) line of around 2050 km is also planned, running south to Niger. It
has 550 km for Libya, 450 km for Chad and 1050 km for Niger. Libya rightly considers
establishing viable rail links amongst the nations as a prerequisite for enhancing their bilateral
trade. Indeed it is also part of a vaster "Grand Design" for African-wide transportation networks,
which can contribute to the economic integration, and development of this great continent
wherein Libya shall be a gateway for Africa to Europe.
3.1 Rolling Stock
Libyan Railway Executive Board on 10 June 2007 signed with American General Electric Co. a
contract for supply of locomotives and training of Libyan nationals in operational and
maintenance work. The contract includes the import of spare parts and technical assistance.
3.2 Railway Development Timeline
The progress being made is evident from the fact that during January 2009, China Railway
Construction signed a contract to build 172 km from Tripoli to Ras Ejder. During 2008, in the
month of November - GE signed an agreement to supply 15 diesel locomotives. On 30 August
2008, Russian Railways begins work on 554 km Sirt to Benghazi railway. This extends another
project to build a 352 km line running from Sirt westwards via Misratah to Elkhoms.
During the same year (2008), China Railway Construction wins $2.6b bids in Libya. A west-to-
east coastal railway 352 km from Elkoms to Sirt and a south-to-west railway 800 km long for
iron ore transport from the southern city Sebha to Misurata.
During 2007, Google Earth (2007) progress with the trackbed along the coast between the
Tunisian border at Ras Ejder and Sirt via Tripoli.
During 22 July 2009 Italian Finmeccanica signed a contract worth 541 million euro in Libya
through its subsidiary Ansaldo STS for rail signaling, telecommunications and power supply
systems for the coastal line from Ras Ajdir to Sirt and the inland line from Al-Hisha to Sabha. It
will cover around 1,450 km of line in total.
3.3 Railway Links With Adjacent Countries
1. Algeria - no - same 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in) gauge.
2. Chad - no
3. Egypt - no - proposed - same 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in) gauge.
4. Niger - no - proposed
5. Sudan - no - break-of-gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in)/1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)
6. Tunisia - no - proposed - mostly same 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in) gauge, but some 1,000
mm (3 ft 3+3⁄8 in) gauge would need to be converted to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in).
The earthworks for the new lines under construction can be seen on the aerial photographs as
given below:
1. Castelverde, Libya
2. Fondugh el-Allus
3. Fondugh an-Naqqazah
4. Bani Hasan
5. Al Khums - coast
6. Al Jum'ah
7. Al Ghiran
8. Sirt - coast
9. Sebha - southeast inland
10. Misurata - port
4. Lessons Learnt From Other Networks in Africa
African countries recognize the importance of trade facilitation and the gains that can be made
from a more efficient flow of goods and services as well as improved international
competitiveness when "transactions costs" fall as result of improved trade facilitation processes.
Indeed, throughout the involvement of African countries in trade negotiations within the WTO,
African countries have not questioned the merits of improved mechanisms and processes for
facilitating the flow of goods and services, but what they have been concerned with are the likely
additional obligations and burdens that could arise from a "multilateral framework on trade
facilitation". The importance African countries attach to trade facilitation has been reflected in
numerous agreements at bilateral, sub-regional and regional levels as well as efforts made at the
country level to facilitate the flow of goods and services. Such initiatives include sub-regional
organizations such as the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and
Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the
Economic Community for Central African States (ECCAS), the Economic Community for
Western African States (ECOWAS), and the continental organization, the African Union (AU),
among many others.
Despite these notable efforts to integrate Africa's economic space and improve its international
competitiveness, most of the trade facilitation initiatives have yielded limited results.
Transactions costs in many African countries remain high, as evidenced by high transport and
communications costs; high charges and delays at numerous roadblocks; long customs and
administrative delays at ports and border posts; and inefficient international payments systems.
Furthermore, non-compliance by some countries to agreed agreements on trade facilitation, poor
program implementation, lack of coordination among and between countries, lack of
coordination among relevant agencies within countries, inadequate skilled manpower and lack of
a multi-sectoral approach to trade facilitation, have also contributed to the less than satisfactory
outcomes on trade facilitation initiatives in Africa.
The transactions costs in Africa remain extremely high relative to other regions. The fact that
three railway gauges predominate in Africa causes severe limitations in physical integration of
the railway networks in the various sub-regions. Transport services in many African countries
remain inefficient, as manifest by high vehicle prices, poor market information, presence of
transport cartels, poor knowledge of operating costs, poor operating practices, poor maintenance
and unnecessary fast driving. In many African countries, transport costs are six times higher than
in Pakistan, a country that itself is a developing economy. Furthermore, the system of rail
roadblocks in many African countries results in excessive delays and a substantial increase in
transport costs.
African countries acknowledge that these inefficiencies need to be tackled if they are to integrate
their economies and become competitive in international markets. Indeed, African countries can
reap enormous benefits from improvements in trade facilitation, as has been shown in some of
these countries where concerted efforts have been made in this respect, countries such as Tunisia
and Morocco. If a multilateral framework on trade facilitation can contribute to enable African
countries to achieve efficiency and reduce transactions costs for trade and thereby "contribute to
development" then the letter and spirit of Doha will have been maintained.
Libya is the geographical fulcrum of the process: from Libya rail lines radiate out along the
Mediterranean coast and from Libya, the connections originate all the way down to South Africa,
through Chad Niger, Sudan, and so on. As per German author Muriel Mirak-Weissbach it will
be through Libya and Egypt that this de facto continental structure will be linked up, moving
eastwards, with the grand project of the Eurasian land bridge--the project to link China with
western Europe, through three main trunk lines (north, central and south). It would finally be
possible to join the major nations of Africa with the Eurasian continent. One day, it would be
possible to jump on a train in Cape Town and travel all the way to Beijing. Or, at least from
north Africa. Thus this is no more"--a fantasy of the future--, but a reality. The FREA is, in fact,
planning to organize a 20-day voyage from Alexandria to Beijing. The "Silk Rail" trip slated for
2010 will originate in Corinth, on the Venice Steamship, then travel to Alexandria, Cairo, Sinai
and Bir el Abd. From there, passengers will board a bus to Taba, and a boat to Aqaba, then travel
on a Jordanian train to Amman, thence to Damascus, Aleppo, Turkey, Erzerum, Kars, Yerevan,
Baku, and then, with a ferry boat across the Caspian Sea, to Ashgabad, further overland to
Samarkand, Tashkent, Almaty, and on to China. The implicit message of the planned caravan is
unambiguous: transportation links joining countries which are in a politically adversary
relationship. So, any news about progress on building such transnational rail lines, must be
classified in the "good news" rubric and all possible political efforts must be made to ensure their
Overview of the current situation shows that based on SADC Railways there is a need for a
common gauge (1067 mm). Therefore rolling stock is interchanged easily without the need to
transship cargo.
Most Railways have border stations on each side of the border and would place the trains either
on their border station or across, it all depends on the arrangement between the neighboring
Each railway would inspect the train they receive (technical inspection and cargo). In some cases
this would be joint inspections. The result was accumulation of train loads at the Interchange
Points (border stations) and delays to cargo movement. Train loads were broken up to suit the
other railways motive power resulting in single consignments i.e. copper trains arriving at
different times at destination causing problems for the customers.
New technology is a way forward to resolve the problem of the gauge differences. For example,
between Spain and France, by building coaches which can change axes, the 12-centimeter
difference has been overcome, and one can ride from the Gare de Lyons to Madrid with no
difficulties. The same kind of problem arose between Russia and Poland, and between Ukraine
and Poland and Rumania. In the former Yugoslavia, three different gauge railway networks were
interconnected by rolling stock. Again, the gauge problem arose in plans to connect Russian rail
to China's. In all these cases, new ideas have made it possible to bridge the gap.
In the case of similar African rail networks like Egypt and Sudan, where the gauge difference is
quite substantial, i.e. 38 centimeters, requires new technical devices, as well as special coaches
(rolling stock) and diesel locomotives. There are two companies in France currently tackling this
problem, and it may be that parts of the Sudanese railway line will have to be "corrected," i.e.
that some sharp curves will have to be ironed out [9].
4.1 The Corridor Concept
Based on the good practices the Protocol on Transport and Meteorology which came into effect
in August 1996 signed by SADC Heads of States put an obligation on the railways to integrate
railway services and establish Corridor Management Groups with the objective to provide
seamless, predictable, efficient and cost effective rail transport to support the SADC economy.
The Railways through SARA took up this challenge and established CMGs which focused on the
following areas;
Single Interchange Points (SIPs)
Single Inspections
Cross-border working of locomotives
Cross-border working of crews
International Trains Timetable
Train Loads not to be broken up
Matching of motive power to load offered
Communication among corridor railways on the movement of the international trains
Giving priority to international trains in the allocation of resources such as locomotives &
Through billing revenue collection at one point
Providing assistance in the case of emergency-railways to assist each other to clear
derailments and reopen line as soon as possible
Joint Train Planning
Joint Marketing
Development and use of same C & W Maintenance Manual
5. Promotion And Support Of The Corridor Concept
In order to get the best value of our investment, the business case for the Corridor concept arises
from the following;
Leads from fragmentation to integration
Eliminates duplication of resources (stations on both side of the border) to Single Interchange
Promotes the shift from Joint inspections to Single Inspections using the same Inspection
Manual-same standard
Maintaining of unit loads until destination unless a wagon/s develops technical problems and
has to be uncoupled
Reduction in delays at interchange point due to set standard dwell times at each interchange
Adherence to set benchmarks for keeping trains in motion improves transit times and
utilization of resources (e.g. trains to cover 500km per day, at least)
Allows for the formation of multidisciplinary CMGs who will deal with problems on the
Resource sharing i.e. working locomotives across borders
Coordination of activities along corridors is made easier as well as feedback to the clients on
the whereabouts of their cargo.
It is possible to Market the corridor and increase the market share of rail along the same
bearing in mind that road runs parallel to rail in most routes
It is possible to carry out surveys to ascertain the market potential along corridors and to
identify rail friendly cargo
Elimination/reduction of bottlenecks can be coordinated along the corridor.
Reduction transit times by so doing reduce the wagon
turnaround time (improve wagon productivity).
It is possible to produce and work to International Train Schedules agreed to by all key role
players along the corridor
It is possible to record the performance of the trains against the schedule and deal with
deviations immediately
Provides a framework for reporting on the business along corridors and devising retention
strategies for existing as well as attracting new business.
Allows for data collection and submission to Southern African Railways Association (SARA)
according to the (SARA) format to facilitate reporting to the SADC Ministers of Transport on
the implementation of the Transport Protocol
Allows for coordinated communication (feedback) to the customers concerning the
whereabouts of their cargo.
Provides a framework for the reduction in operating cost along corridors thereby enabling
railways to compete against road price wise and service quality.
5.1 Expected Benefits of the Corridor Concept
Following benefits highlight the need to promote and support the corridor concept in a big way.
Retention of existing business
Attracting new business, hence increasing market share
Reduced operating costs hence the making of profit
Increased wagon utilization/productivity arising from reduced turnaround time
Increased locomotive utilization through the sharing of motive power ( cross border working)
Satisfied customers who are kept informed about the status of their cargo, thus willing to give
more business to the railways
Proving to Governments and Private Investors that supporting the railways through
infrastructure and equipment investment is worthwhile because of the economic return to
Governments and return on investment to private investors
Contributing towards making exporters and importers in the region competitive in the global
market by lowering the cost of logistics and transport
To be recognized as the transport mode of choice in the region than being marginalized as a
last resort mode of transport.
6. Concluding Remarks
The paper has demonstrated that how the Libya led initiative for Trans Sahara Railway as a part
of Single African Rail network to serve as a gateway to Europe can help herald Africa as a
Continent of Economic Opportunities. It will open up doors for numerous successful
entrepreneurs and enterprises creating jobs in all 53 African countries and improving the quality
of life in their local African communities. It will also help promote and support Economic and
Political Policies to tackle challenges and create new opportunities for job creation to rid the
continent from its dark history. The way forward is to take the opportunity to consider and
review among others, the performance of regional rail corridors, to align it with the dynamics of
the business environment, our regional strategic plan, safety issues, use of Information
Communications Technologies (ICTS) and issues relating to integration with the Union of
African Railways (UAR) and the international union of railways (UIC). In doing so, what is
required is to develop a comprehensive regional framework to ensure the provision of an
efficient, integrated and cost effective seamless rail transport service.
Finally, it is hoped that Libya led ASRA will help support the UAR to quicken integration of
UAR and UIC. This requires full utilization to access funding from the African Union that will
benefit all the members and the region as a whole as contained in Brazzaville Declaration. It
would also need the African railways to strengthen cooperation in the sharing of information and
resources (rolling stock and other facilities) to alleviate shortfalls in any of the African countries.
[1] Bindra, S. & Hokoma, R. (2004), “Challenges and opportunities of automobile pollution
control in developing countries”, Proceedings of the International Conference on World
Renewable Energy Congress VIII (WREC VIII), Denver, Colorado, USA.
[2] Bindra S.P., “Role, Trends, Opportunities and Challenges of Trans Sahara Rail”, First
Railway Conference to establish ASRA, Elkhoms Jan 2005.
[3] Bindra S.P. & K Bindra, “Principles and Practice of Railway Engineering”, Dhanpat Rai
Publisher, 2008 Ed, India.
[4] Bindra S.P., "Earthworks 60% complete on first section of Libyan network". Railway
Gazette International. 2001-01-01.
[6] "Work starts on Libyan railway". Railway Gazette International.
_railway.html. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
[7] David Briginshaw (2001). "Libya's First Two Railway Lines Start To Take Shape".
International Railway Journal.
Retrieved 2007-12-30. 6. Muriel Mirak-Weissbach & Mthaba - News that Matters Build
Railways for Peace in Africa” Global Research, May 29, 2008
[8] Bindra, S. & Hokoma R., Challenges & Opportunities of Automobile Pollution Control in
Developing Countries, Proceedings of the International Conference on Industrial and
Commercial Use of Energy Conference 2004, Western Cape, South Africa, pp-197-202,
[9] Hokoma R. & Bindra S., (2009). Meeting the energy challenge for sustainable
development of developing countries. Proceedings of the International Conference on
Energy and Environment, 19-21 March.
... Preventive problems also require less time compared with other types of controls of running costs. The performance of preventive problems could be evaluated by using simulation models, and it is found that the choice of strategy has a major impact on the cell performance as well as on the overall performance [10], [11]. ...
Full-text available
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