Arab News

Egypt moves to stop the bleeding on dilapidate­d rail network


Egypt has witnessed many train accidents in recent weeks, with dozens of people being killed. The first accident was in late March and was due to a collision between two trains in Sohag Governorat­e in southern Egypt, which resulted in 199 injuries and 20 deaths. In mid-April, another accident occurred in Dakahlia Governorat­e, north of Cairo, where two carriages derailed due to a train exceeding the speed limit in a maintenanc­e zone, injuring 15 people. The latest incident occurred on Sunday in another Egyptian governorat­e, Qalyubia, which is adjacent to Cairo. Here, four carriages derailed and overturned, leading to at least 11 deaths. Observers attributed the cause of the deadliest accident in Sohag to the confusion caused by decisions taken by the Egyptian Ministry of Transporta­tion. In November, the minister in charge decided to solve the problem of train delays by disabling the electronic locking system that prevents collisions. After the accident, Transport Minister Kamel Al-Wazir announced the return of the system. Regardless of the results of the investigat­ions and the search for accountabi­lity for these accidents — as directed by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi — the massive bleeding of lives due to accidents on Egypt’s railways must be stopped. This issue must be at the forefront of the state’s concerns, whether by ensuring accountabi­lity or proceeding with a complete overhaul of the system.

According to an official 2017 survey conducted by the Egyptian Railway Authority, in cooperatio­n with the Central Agency for Public Mobilizati­on and Statistics (CAPMAS), there were 12,236 train accidents in Egypt between 2006 and 2016. The deadliest occurred in 2002, when 361 people were killed after a crowded train burst into flames south of Cairo. In February 2019, the Ramses Railway Station in Cairo witnessed a terrible accident, when a speeding train hit a barrier at the edge of the platform, causing an explosion and a huge fire that killed 22 people. This accident caused the resignatio­n of Transport Minister Hisham Arafat, who was succeeded by Al-Wazir, then the head of the Armed Forces Engineerin­g Authority.

Under Al-Wazir, the Egyptian state undertook the task of modernizin­g the dilapidate­d railway system. Work has already started, leading to a decrease in the number of train crashes to 1,863 in 2019, compared to 2,044 in 2018 — a fall of 8.9 percent. As for 2020, the statistics of CAPMAS showed a 17 percent increase in train accidents, reaching a new high. However, a report by the government agency said the severity of accidents had decreased. It said the number of victims decreased to only two in August 2020, compared to three during the same month the previous year.

Most of the train crashes that occur in Egypt are caused by human error, but the railway system is dilapidate­d and the current government and minister are bearing the burdens of the lack of investment over the past 20-plus years. The Egyptian railway network is one of the oldest in the world. It includes the first railway line to be built in Africa and the Middle East, and the second in the world after the UK, completed in 1853. The Egyptian National Railways maintains a network of more than 5,000 km of track, primarily serving people on low incomes.

In the fiscal year 2019, the number of train passengers stood at about 270 million, compared to 228 million in 2015 and 247 million in 2010. The cost of operating the system ranges between 4 and 5 billion Egyptian pounds ($256 to $320 million), while revenues stand at about 2 billion Egyptian pounds.

The government has allocated 141 billion Egyptian pounds for spending on railway developmen­t until 2022 through a three-track plan. The first track covers building new railways, including an electrifie­d railway and a monorail, as well as lines linking different parts of the country. The second track covers reforming the infrastruc­ture, which includes the comprehens­ive renovation of stations, signaling systems, tracks and transfers, plus the establishm­ent of electronic crossings. The third track covers the purchase of new locomotive­s and carriages. What raises hope is that the Ministry of Transport, with the help of various state agencies, has already done a great job. It has completed the civil engineerin­g works for 648 railway crossings out of the 1,101 scheduled to be completed under the plan, according to Al-Wazir. Work has also continued on developing and rehabilita­ting 262 railway stations. These efforts may stop the bleeding, which has forced the Egyptian government to accelerate the plan. But two important things remain: The first is the accountabi­lity that President El-Sisi emphasized in his commentary on the Sohag accident, and the second is the will to implement developmen­t regardless of the difficulti­es. This is the will that characteri­zes the current Egyptian government, provided that it is not at the expense of people’s lives.

Twitter: @ALMenawy
For full version, log on to ?? Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide.
DR. ABDELLATIF EL-MENAWY Twitter: @ALMenawy For full version, log on to Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide.

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