If you're planning to travel between Tunisia's larger cities, consider the train as a comfortable and efficient means of local transport. The rail network is operated by SNCFT, a government company under the direction of the Ministry of Transport. Although sometimes crowded, trains are affordable, typically run on time and are considered safe for tourists and locals alike. Currently, SNCFT offers 11 main lines connecting the country's biggest cities in addition to metro railway lines in Tunis and the Sahel region.
Inter-City Train Lines
The 11 inter-city railway routes are as follows:
- Tunis - Ghardimaou (with stops at Beja, Bou-Salem and Jendouba)
- Tunis - Bizerte (with a stop at Mateur)
- Tunis - Sfax (with stops at Bir Bouregba, Enfidha, Kalâa Sghira and El Jem)
- Tunis - Kalâa Khasba (with stops at Gaafour and Dahmani)
- Tunis - Tozeur (with stops at Sfax, Gafsa and Métlaoui)
- Tunis - Sousse (with stops at Bir Bouregba and Enfidha)
- Tunis - Nabeul (with stops at Hammamet and Bir Bouregba)
- Tunis - El Kef (with stops at Gaafour and Dahmani)
- Tunis - Djerba (with stops at Sousse, Sfax and Gabes). From Gabes you can travel on to Tataouine via air-conditioned bus link.
- Tunis - Zarzis (with stops at Kalaâ Sghira, Sfax and Gabes). The section between Gabes and Zarzis is undertaken on an air-conditioned bus.
- Sousse - Mahdia (with a stop at Monastir)
Some routes also offer express services.
Booking Train Tickets and Passes
The SNCFT website now comes in English as well as French and Arabic, and you can use it to book tickets online. Seats only become available three days in advance. Usually you can reserve seats the night before you travel, or even turn up at the station and pay for them on the day. During peak holiday season (the Tunisian summer) and on public holidays, though, it's a good idea to make your reservation as soon as possible. SNCFT also offers seven, 15 and 21-day rail passes. This pass is called Carte Bleue and entitles you to unlimited travel on all SNCTF trains during your chosen period of validity. Decide whether you want a second, first or confort class pass (see below).
Children aged three and under travel on Tunisian trains for free. Children aged four to nine are charged at 75% of the adult fare, while children aged 10 and older pay full price.
Second, First or Confort Class?
There are three travel classes on Tunisian trains (with the exception of some express trains, which are all first class). Second class is incredibly affordable and as a result, often crowded. Depending on when are where you are traveling, there may be standing room only – making second class a suitable choice for saving money on shorter trips. Traveling first class doesn't mean that you're guaranteed a seat; however, your chances of getting one are better and they recline for greater comfort. There's also more space, fewer travelers and more room for luggage. Confort class is similar but even more spacious, with seats arranged 2+1 across the width of the carriage rather than 2+2.
Sample Journey Times
You can check up-to-date schedules on the SNCFT website. However, the sample journey times listed below give you an idea of approximately how much time it will take to travel from the Tunisian capital to some of the country's most popular destinations on a regular (non-express) train.
Tunis - Hammamet: 1 hour, 5 minutes
Tunis - Bizerte: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Tunis - Sousse: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Tunis - Monastir: 2 hours, 35 minutes
Tunis - El Jem: 3 hours, 20 minutes
Tunis - Sfax: 4 hours, 5 minutes
Tunis - Gabes: 5 hours, 40 minutes
Tunis - Gafsa: 7 hours, 15 minutes
Tunis - Tozeur: 9 hours
Refreshments On Board
A refreshment cart makes its way through long-distance trains serving drinks, sandwiches and snacks. If you're traveling during Ramadan, make sure to bring your own supply of food since the onboard dining services may well be closed. Trains do not stop at the stations long enough to get out and buy anything.
Using the TGM in Tunis
The TGM is a commuter rail service that runs between Tunis city center and the northern suburbs including La Goulette, Sidi Bou Said and La Marsa. It runs frequently (every 15 minutes or so), and is extremely cheap and easy to use. Try to avoid peak commuter hours unless you're willing to jostle for space with Tunisian businessmen and women. Trains depart from Tunis Marine station, located near the harbor. From here, you can also catch trams and buses to various locations throughout the city including the main railway station, the airport and Bardo National Museum.
Lezard Rouge Tourist Train
Built in the early 20th century to transport the Bey of Tunis on his tours around the country, the historic, six-carriage Lézard Rouge now operates as a sightseeing train for tourists. It departs from Metlaoui, a rural town near Gafsa in central Tunisia, and takes you on a whimsical journey through the spectacular desert scenery of the Selja Gorges to a picturesque oasis and back. There are three weekly departures – one at 10:00am on Tuesday, the others at 10:30am on Friday and Saturday. The entire experience takes roughly 1 hour, 45 minutes and includes scheduled stops for photographs.