(CNN)The first high-speed trains in Africa are flashing along the Atlantic coast of Morocco.
The French-made double-decker TGVs are being tested ahead of the launch of a flagship new line connecting Tangier with Morocco’s economic capital Casablanca in 2018.
The new trains can reach speeds of 200 miles per hour. They will cut the journey time between the two cities by more than half — to just over two hours. This is double the speed of South Africa’s Gautrain, launched in 2012, which falls short of the criteria for high-speed rail.
The $2 billion project has been in development for a decade, funded by the governments of Morocco, France, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE.
King Mohammed VI and the Moroccan government expect the trains to deliver wealth and prestige for the country. But opponents claim they are an expensive folly.
Not all aboard
Such disparities have fueled the “Stop TGV” campaign, a coalition of activists arguing that the investment could be better used for failing public services.
“Morocco is a poor country and the top priority should be education,” says Omar Balafraj, a leader campaigner and member of parliament for the Federation of the Democratic Left party.
Balafraj tells a joke that he feels captures the folly of the project: “A man meets a homeless man who is almost naked, and asks him what he needs. He answers: ‘only a ring.'”
But despite such reservations, the project is almost certainly too far advanced now to be stopped in its tracks.
The high-speed Tangier to Casablanca service will soon be welcoming its first passengers.