Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Calls for railway upgrading

At least 70 people were injured in yet another train crash, this one in Beni Sweif, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Following still another train accident, the Ministry of Transportation has announced a LE200 billion strategy to reform all means of transportation, including the national railway.

Early on Thursday 11 February, more than 70 people were injured when a train derailed and two of its cars overturned in Beni Sweif Governorate. The train was en route from Aswan to Cairo.

The train slammed into a cement wall while trying to avoid another train heading in the opposite direction, causing two of its carriages to overturn, according to the National Railway Authority (NRA).

On Monday, the train’s driver, charged with negligence, was detained a further 15 days by the Beni Sweif prosecutor. In a report submitted to the prosecutor, the authority said that the accident happened because the train was moving at too high a speed as it arrived in Nasser Station.

“The train entered the station at 115 kilometres an hour while it should never have exceeded 30km. So it was the driver’s mistake. No technical problems were found in either the passenger cars or the station,” the report said.

At a press conference on Monday, Minister of Transportation Saad Al-Geyoushi said he has asked the government for LE90 billion in urgent funds for the railway authority to repair, if only temporarily, trains, rails and stations.

“Current railway services, in addition to the other means of transportation, need at least LE200 billion to meet global standards under a plan that we will implement in four years if the fund is available,” Al-Geyoushi said. He was speaking at a joint press conference with the EU commissioner, called to kick off a twinning project to support Egypt’s national railways.

“We need LE90 billion just to carry out urgent plans and the prime minister promised to help,” he added. However, Al-Geyoushi said the military and its affiliated agencies would try to raise funds from public transportation for a five-year strategy since the current government will not be able to provide the LE200 billion.

Experts told the Al-Ahram Weekly that the public transportation system will be able to raise the amount in five years. The authority’s revenues rose in November 2015 to LE118.8 million, compared to LE 93.4 million in November 2014, the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) said in a report published in early February.

“We have been operating without safety measures due to past errors and a long history of negligence over 30 years,” the minister said, blaming the current situation on a historical failure to finance maintenance.

Al-Geyoushi apologised to the people who were injured in the Beni Sweif accident and for the poor railway service. He said stressing that the ministry will be responsible for treating all the injured.

The accident came a week after another train accident at Giza’s Al-Ayyat station in which seven people were killed. The train struck a car that was crossing the railway.

There were 640 train accidents in Egypt in the first half of 2015; 42 people were killed.

Both figures mark an increase compared to 2014, CAPMAS said in its December report on car and train accidents. The country’s worst railway disaster was in February 2002 when a train heading to Upper Egypt ‎caught fire, killing 363 people.

‎Crossing points have been the reason for most train accidents. The NRA said in October 2015 that it has updated 411 crossings across 22 governorates at a cost of LE650 million as part of a broader scheme to improve the management of the facilities and prevent fatal accidents.

Al-Geyoushi stirred up controversy when he said in a TV interview last week that the only way to raise Egypt’s railways up to international standards is to allow the private sector to invest in railway services because the government cannot continue spending more money on reforming the system.

Many commentators interpreted Al- Geyoushi’s comments as an attempt to privatise the national railway. He later said investment in reforming the service did not mean privatisation.

“The government has limited options to improve the service after suffering from 30 years of negligence,” said Abu Bakr Al-Deib, an expert in transportation. He added that privatisation is not possible and that it is also hard to spend LE200 billion.

“So the government adopted temporary solutions while it needs to work on an overall strategy that could be implemented in less than five years,” Al-Deib said.

Khaled Al-Shafi, an expert on railway safety, said that bringing in foreign contractors as part of the reform plan should be brought to the table since the government has to have international experience to upgrade the national railway.

He added that the reform plan should include training programmes for drivers, technicians, administrators and senior officials.

“Bringing new trains is not the solution. It’s more important to have a professional body that can govern the system and put it on a par with international standards,” Al-Shafi said.

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