Wednesday,17 October, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)
Wednesday,17 October, 2018
Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Sub-contracting railway transport

Moves are underway to allow private sector companies access to Egypt’s railway industry, reports Ahmed Morsy


Sub-contracting railway transport
Sub-contracting railway transport

Transport Minister Hisham Arafat says there is an urgent need for new legislation to allow the private sector to participate in upgrading rail services.

“The Railway Authority is expected to do everything, from operating, constructing and investing in the rail network to ensuring it is maintained. That is why it is overstretched and overworked. It is necessary to introduce the private sector to the industry,” Arafat said in a televised interview this week.

“I’m not talking about privatisation since we are not selling the railways. What we need is for private sector companies to enter the industry in the form of operator and service providers.”

New legislation will be needed to allow the private sector to build, manage or maintain railway infrastructure and is likely to be introduced in the next parliamentary session.

“People often jump to the conclusion that if the private sector is allowed into the railway industry the price of tickets will automatically increase but this is not the case. The Railway Authority will still set the prices of tickets,” said Arafat.

The railway network requires massive upgrading. According to Hani Sobhi, professor of railway engineering at Ain Shams University, “railway safety measures in Egypt are characterised by the systematic neglect of the maintenance of equipment.”

In 2016, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), 1,249 accidents were reported on the Egyptian railway network.

The sector’s major problem is ageing infrastructure, especially signalling systems and tracks. “The network we are using nowadays is more or less the same one we were using in 1935,” says Arafat.

Eighty five per cent of the network still uses mechanical signalling systems.

“No private sector or international company would invest in Egypt’s railway industry given the existing infrastructure which is why we plan to develop the system, beginning with 1,300km of track between Cairo and Alexandria and Cairo and Aswan.”

The cost, though, could prove prohibitive. Arafat estimates that it will take LE45 billion to upgrade the Cairo-Luxor line.

The system’s rolling stock also needs replacing. Currently 300 locomotives in service are 35 years old.

“We have already signed an agreement with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development [EBRD] to fund 100 new locomotives,” says Arafat.

Two months ago the Egyptian National Railways (ENR) entered into a deal with US-based General Electric to supply 100 new locomotives and refurbish 81 old engines. The $575 million deal includes a 15-year technical support contract and training programmes for more than 275 engineers and technicians. A $300m loan from EBRD, which will cover part of the deal, was signed on 19 June.

Egypt’s railway network is among the world’s oldest, with 9,570km of tracks running across the country. It transports 500 million passengers annually, an average of 1.4 million passengers each day, according to ENR.

Two weeks ago a train travelling from Cairo to Alexandria crashed into the back of another coming from Port Said at Khorshid station, leaving 42 dead and 132 injured. The hit train had halted a few kilometres from Alexandria’s Sidi Gaber when the collision occurred. According to the Ministry of Health, 80 cent of the injured have been discharged from hospital.

In the wake of the accident Arafat appointed Sayed Salem as temporary chief of the ERA. Salem was previously the ERA’s deputy chief for safety.

Prosecutors ordered the detention of the two train drivers as part of the crash investigation. Eight railway officials have also been suspended until the investigation is complete.

This week Eastern Alexandria prosecution received audio recordings of communications between the railway traffic control unit and the two drivers. Traffic control received a signal that the Port Said train was stopping on the tracks 38 minutes before the accident and soon after received a signal that the Cairo train was approaching. The traffic controller made repeated calls to both train drivers to warn them of a potential collision but received no response from either.

According to the government’s own studies, 69 per cent of accidents on the railways between 2007 and 2011 were caused by human error, 25 per cent by a combination of human error and technical malfunction and six per cent were the result of exclusively technical failings.

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