Transport in Libya

As might be expected, the large and increasing volume of imports has led to severe congestion at the main ports of Tripoli and Benghazi. Worsening port conditions have resulted in increases in surcharges. In addition, Darnah and Misurata ports are being reconstructed. Tripoli, Mersa Brega and Benghazi are undergoing large-scale expansion. In 1986, according to the Libyan news agency, JANA, the handling capacity of the nation's ports was 9.5m. tons.

Port expansion is necessarily a long-term process and the development of rail, road and to some extent air freight is very important. There is an extensive road-building programme, and a number of large road-building contracts, such as the Sebha-Wadden road and the Mirzuk link, were awarded to Egyptian companies.

In 1980 an Indian company won a US $129m. contract for the construction of desert roads at a variety of locations throughout the country. The road from Tripoli to Sebha was opened at the end of 1983, providing 770 km of metalled surface. In September 1986 the Government claimed to have built 10,990 km of paved roads, and 6,250 km of rural roads during the preceding 17 years. There have been no railways in Libya since 1964, when the Benghazi-Barce line was abandoned.

In 1998 plans were announced to construct 2,178 km of track running east to west and 992 km running north to south. The first phase of the project would be a 700-km rail link between Ras Jedir on the Tunisian border and Sirte (Surt) on the Mediterranean coast, followed in the second phase by a line between Sirte and Om sa ad on the Egyptian border. In mid-1998 talks were in progress between Libyan, Tunisian and Egyptian officials regarding the feasibility of cross-border links to the proposed Libyan railway.

The UN ban on international flights to Libya, which in April 1992 effectively shut down the international operations of the national carrier, Libyan Arab Airlines, led to increased use of airports in neighbouring countries. Following the suspension of UN sanctions in April 1999, regional and international airlines began to reintroduce services to Libya, while Libyan Arab Airlines opened discussions with other Middle East-based airlines with a view to leasing aircraft for international routes.

As part of Libya's aim to create a comprehensive telecommunications network, in mid-1991 Swedish companies were awarded contracts for new installations in the south-west of the country; however, other parts of the programme, notably plans for 20 new exchanges and 182,000 extra lines in Tripoli and Benghazi, were not finalized until mid-1993.

Libya has had no railway in operation since 1965, all previous narrow gauge lines having been dismantled. Plans for a new network have been under development for some time (earthworks were begun between Sirt and Ras Ejder, Tunisia border, in 2001-5), and in 2008 and 2009 various contracts were placed and construction work started on a 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in) standard gauge railway parallel to the coast from the Tunisian frontier (Ras Ejder) to Tripoli, and on to Misratah, Sirt and Benghazi. Another railway line will run inland from Misratah to Sabha at the centre of a mineral-rich area.

In the future the coastal line could be extended to As Sallum, Egypt. An even more ambitious plan is for a trans-Saharan line connecting to Central Africa including Niger and Nigeria.

Last Updated on Wednesday 9th December 2009