Egyptian Railway Sector

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Old is not always gold
With an impressive past, troublesome present and a fearful future: Egyptian Railway is so much similar to Egypt nowadays, writes Ahmed Morsy “I dream of a time when a train safely runs and reaches its destination on time,” said Islam Shokri, a 29-year-old employee living in Nasr City district of Cairo and working in Aswan. Shokri, whose work necessitates travelling about 900 kilometres by train every week, said that the trip from Cairo to Aswan sometimes takes fifteen hours instead of nine hours even if there were no strikes or sit-ins blocking the train’s rails. The total time wasted due to the trains being suspended by strikes and sit-ins was 2,580 minutes within 350 days, which is equivalent to 108 days, the highest percentage of wasted time in the history of the railroads, according to a report issued by Egyptian Railway Authority (ERA). “In addition to the lateness, it became risky to travel by train due to the increasing number of fatalities the national railways have been witnessing,” Shokri added. Recently, the railways have seen an escalating number of accidents. At least 52 people - mainly of schoolchildren - were killed last week after a train collided with a school bus that drove through a railway crossing in Al-Mandara village in Assiut province, resulting in the Egyptian Transport Minister Mohammed Rashad Al-Metini and ERA Chairman Mustafa Qenawi to resign from their posts immediately following the crash. Over the last 20 years, thousands of Egyptians have been killed in train accidents as both the current and previous governments failed to implement the essential road safety in addition to negligence, aging equipment and lax enforcement of laws. “The railway sector’s deterioration began in the fifties,” Osama Okail, Professor of Road Engineering at Ain Shams University, told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that the traces of deterioration emerged in the era of the late President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, in which the focus was on the 1952 Revolution and its objectives. “Hence, the transport ministers came in charge had no vision or strategy for the development of the second oldest railway sector worldwide,” Okail said. Historically, Egypt is internationally the second country following Great Britain to have railways after inaugurating its first railway in Ottoman Empire as well as Africa and the Middle East in 1854 during Khedive Abbas Hilmi I, the viceroy of Egypt. At that time, the construction of the Egyptian railroads was not intended as a service to Egyptian economy or even to exploit Egypt's natural resources. Rather, the colonial interests were behind its establishment since it was motivated by the desire of Great Britain to gain political leverage in Egypt in order to secure an access to their dominions in Africa as well as Asia. Besides, it aimed at creating a safe trading corridor to India, the largest and most important British colony at that moment. Consequently, when the Suez Canal was opened to international navigation in 1869, the foreign interest in railroad development in Egypt ceased. However, on the contrary, the Egyptian railroads created their own rationale of development and expansion. The total lengths of railroads constructed between 1858 and 1876 indeed surpass any other expansions in the Egyptian railroad network throughout its more than 150 years of history. “Afterwards, in the early eighties, when the sector was in a bad need for upgrade and maintenance, Soliman Metwalli became the minister of transport and continued topping the system for 20 years,” Okail added. Regardless the underground metro that was initiated during his helm, Metwalli was one of the main reasons behind weakening the railway sector in Egypt, Okail said. “He was an army officer, and had no strategy for upgrading the railway system. Hence, he depreciated it,” Okail explained. Meanwhile, Egypt’s total length of railway network is 9570 kilometre running across the country, with around 100,000 thousand...
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