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Transport in Tunisia

Tunisia inherited a relatively modern system of road and communications from the period of colonial rule. Substantial work is being carried out to modernize and extend the existing higway and railway networks. In mid-1991 it was announced that construction work on the motorway from Hammamet to'Saken was due for completion by the end of 1993. By mid 1993 some 31 km (out of 90 km) of the road remained to be completed. In 1995 the Government announced a US $88.7 programme (including $51.5m loaned by the World Bank) to improve over 1,000 km of rural roads.


After 1995 the Gorvenment's policy on motorway building was to seek private sector financing for the construction of toll roads. It was intended that public-sector investment should be channelled into the maintenance and improvement of existing roads, some 500 km of roads being scheduled for upgrading in 1996.

In November 1998 the Government announced that construction would begin in two new sections of motorway, one from Tunis to Bizerta and another from Bizerta to Menzel Bourguiba; and that feasibility studies would be carried out on motorways from Tunis west to ejez el-Bab and from M'Saken to Sfax. Part of the revenue generated from the privatization programme would be devoted to motorway construction.

At the same time, it was announced that the Tunisian section of the proposed trans-Maghreb Highway would be completed by 2001 rather than 2011, the date announced by the Government two years earlier. It was hoped that much of the construction work would be undertaken by the private sector.

By late 1998 there were 776,000 licensed vehicles in the country, including 446,000 private cars and 190,000 transport vehicles. About one-half of the total number of vehicles were owned by people living in the Greater Tunis. In 1980 work began on the 30-km first phase of the Tunis city railway. A five-Iine 'metro' transport system was in operation in 1996; further lines were under construction.

In early 1998 it was reported that the Government was planning to allow the state railway company, the societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Tunisiens (SNCFT), to operate under a concesion, with the state retaining control over track. SNCFT would be expected to cover its costs and would only receive state subsidies on a limited number of loss-making services. At the same time, the EIB announced a loan of ECU 25m to help finance the modernization of the country's main railway line linking Tunis to Sfax.

There are international airports at Tunis-Carthage, Djerba-Zarzis, Monastir-Skanes, Sfax-Thyna, Tabarka-7 Novembre, Tozeur-Nefta and Gafsa-Ksar (opened at the end of 1998). The second phase of the Tunis-Carthage airport expansion project, to increase passenger capacity from 3.5m to 4.5m per year, was completed in April 1998. The country's airports handled 8.3m passengers in 1997, an increase of 12.5% over 1996 as a result of a rise in the number of foreign tourists. A further expansion in passenger numbers was forecast for 1998.

There are plans to enlarge the capacity of Monastir-Skanes airport to 5m, Djerba-Zarzis to 4m and Sfax-Thyna to 4.5m New international airports are planned at Gabes and at Enfida, located some 60 km south of Tunis. The first phase of Enfida airport is due to be completed in 2003 and after further expansion it is to become Tunisia's largest airport, capable of handling 30 m passengers by 2038.

The national airline, Tunis Air, carried 3.2m passengers in 1997. In 1995 the state's 85% shareholding of the company was reduced to 45.2% as part of the Government's privatization programme, and in mid-1995 the company announced that it would offer 20% of its capital to public subscription. A further 20% stake in Tunis Air was listed for privatization in 1999. The company, which recorded improved profits of TD 27m (US $24m) in 1997, brought forward its plans to update its fleet and placed orders for 15 new aircraft with Airbus and Boeing for delivery during 1998-2005.

Two airbus A391 aircraft were delivered in 1998. As well as modernizing its fleet, the company has made efforts to improve passenger services and to reduce operating costs. Nevertheless, net profits fell sharply in 1997 resulting in a fall in the value of the company's shares. In 1998 the Government announced plans to sell the small domestic airline, Tuninter, which has incurred heavy losses. Tunis Air owns a 40% stake in the company.

The state-owned shipping company, the Compagnie Tunisienne de Navigation (CTN) began operating in 1971 and carried around 25% of total trade in 1985. Although the Government announced in mid-1995 that it wanted to privatize the company, no action was taken.

The CTN has not been profitable and in recent years has begun a restructuring programme, abandoning non-profitable routes and offering incentives to reduce the workforce by one-third. It has also started renewing its fleet. In April 1998 it was reported that the Government was considering several ways of opening the CTN to private capital, and was understood to favour the establishment of a holding company in partnership with private investors.

In early 1984 a contract was awarded to a Turkish firm for the expansion of the port at Gabes. A new commercial port at Zarzis, near Djerba, was constructed shortly afterwards. In May 1990 the World Bank agreed to provide a loan of $17m towards rural road improvement, and $80mtowards the development of railways and ports. In March 1992 the Office des Ports Nationaux Tunisians announced a project to upgrade facilities in the Tunis-Goulette-Rades area.

Following criticism from the business community about the inefficiency of Tunisian ports and the consequent long delays in handling cargo, in late 1997 the Government stated that it planned to involve the private sector in port management and cargo handling, thereby ending the monopolies of the state-owned Office des Ports Nationaux Tunisiens and the societe Tunisienne d'Acconage et de Manutention.

Under the 1997-2000 Development Plan, investment of TD 4,600m ($4,000m) was projected for the transport sector, including finance for the construction of 1,500 km of new roads, the extension of Tunis, Monastir and Djerba airports and the creation of a second railtrack between Tunis and Sousse.

Tunis is the most significant port in Tunisia with other significant ports on the Mediterranean Sea including Bizerte, Gabès, La Goulette, Sfax, Sousse and Zarzis. Tunisia's merchant marine consisted of 14 ships as at 2002. As of 2002, Tunisia had 30 airports including several international airports. The most important one is the Tunis-Carthage International Airport but other significant airports serve Sfax, Houmt Souk, Monastir, Tozeur and Tabarka. Tunisair is the national airline.

As of 2004, there were 18,997 km of highway including 12,310 of paved road and 6,387 of unpaved road. The major cities are all linked by road through the interior.

Route 1 in the Trans-African Highway network passes through Tunisia, linking it to North African nations including Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Egypt, and to West African nations via Mauritania. In addition a feeder road links Tunisia to the Trans-Sahara Highway from Algeria to West Africa.

Last Updated on Wednesday 9th December 2009

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