Egypt accords its high-speed rail network project paramount importance, driven by an expeditious implementation timeline. The project is meant to build on the strategic significance of the Suez Canal within global maritime transport through the establishment of a terrestrial lifeline connecting Egypt’s maritime and dry ports along the Red and Mediterranean seas.
This infrastructure is poised to invigorate numerous commercial and industrial sectors, thereby augmenting the national economy.
The project spans about 2,000 km across three lines branded green, blue, and red and encompasses 60 stations, said Hossam Al-Ashmawi, the executive project manager. The largest railway company in Germany as well as prominent international corporations have secured the rights to operate the project, he added.
The returns are anticipated to recoup the construction costs within 15 years, coinciding with the duration of the operating contract, Al-Ashmawi noted. The project is designed to remain operational for over 120 years, positioning it as a vital lifeline for Egypt.
The first green line comprises 23 stations along 660 km, starting from Ain Sokhna and leading to Alexandria’s Borg Al-Arab. From there it branches out to Alexandria and Marsa Matrouh.
The route facilitates the transport of goods between sea and dry ports through various key stations, including the New Administrative Capital, Mohamed Naguib, Wadi Al-Natroun, Sadat, Borg Al-Arab, and Noubariya in the port of Alexandria.
This network is designed to connect the high-speed train with the regular railway to connect to ports including Dekheila and Alexandria, as well as Alamein and Matrouh, Al-Ashmawi explained. The route incorporates a passenger line featuring 10 stations, along with a high-speed train line boasting 13 stations.
The second blue line, spanning 1,000 km, commences from Hadayek October and extends southwards to Luxor’s Abu Simbel, traversing through Toshka. The third red line goes from Qena to Safaga, Al-Ashmawi said.
Some 45 per cent of the work has already been executed, with implementation rates exhibiting variability from one site to another. Construction at the New Administrative Capital Station and Masar Bridge have surpassed the 60 per cent and 85 per cent marks, respectively.
Commencing from Ain Sokhna and covering a span of 90 km and culminating at the Mohamed Naguib Station, significant milestones have been achieved. These include the completion of the tunnel beneath the Sokhna Road, and other works involving the intricate integration of the railways, electrical infrastructure, and supporting frameworks along the Nile Bridge, spanning 6 km, and the October Flyover, extending across 18.
Engineering works are currently underway at these locations, with subsequent phases planned, Al-Ashmawi added.
Construction at the Ain Sokhna Station has surpassed 50 per cent. It encompasses the construction of the station building and a commercial area on 282,000 square metres. The station is one of the largest, serving as the inception of the route and facilitating crucial transfers for freight trains from the maritime and dry port.
The station features six platforms and four berths designed to accommodate the current population density and anticipated future commercial traffic until 2050, he noted.
Emphasising ongoing efforts, Al-Ashmawi underscored the focus on concluding the work along the entire first line. The completed sectors will be handed over to the company entrusted with executing the work on the tracks and stations, he said.
This approach aims to prepare for the commencement of the operation of the rail project at the end of 2025. It will be preceded by a trial operation by the end of 2024 spanning six to eight months and will involve the finalisation of both the heavy engineering and mechanical line work, Al-Ashmawi said.
SPEEDS: The high-speed and regional trains will operate at speeds of 230km/h with maximum speed of 250 km/h and 160km/h, respectively.
The freight route, which will be used to transport goods and containers from Ain Sokhna to industrial zones and Mediterranean ports, will receive its first locomotive in May 2024, said Ahmed Farouk, Manager at the Ain Sokhna Station.
The first regional train, made up of four carriages, was displayed at the TransMEA Expo this month, Farouk said. According to the agreement with the operating consortium, the country will receive between two and four trains per month, he added.
The Ain Sokhna Station has been outfitted to function as the terminal for both high-speed and regional passenger trains. The origin of the freight trains is situated within the Sokhna Port. The train tracks extend over 6 km to reach the docks. There, containers are loaded onto the train and transported to a designated storage area, where they are prepared for transfer and subsequently loaded onto the high-speed electric line, Farouk explained.
He lauded the economic efficiency of transporting goods via high-speed train, referring to Transport Minister Kamel Al-Wazir’s emphasis on the significance of the transit trade for Egypt. “Our ports are currently undergoing extensive rehabilitation to facilitate the transit trade, enabling the reception of containers in Sokhna and their subsequent transportation to Red Sea ports, dry ports, and the Mediterranean Sea,” Farouk said.
“The project aims to streamline the process for large container carriers that cannot traverse the Suez Canal. These vessels can unload their cargo at the Sokhna Port and have it shipped over to the Mediterranean Sea. Companies seeking operating rights in the ports of Ain Sokhna and Alexandria are convinced of the efficacy of the high-speed train service for the efficient movement of goods.”
There is an additional economic dimension to the movement of goods to the six dry ports along the train route, Farouk elaborated. “This involves transporting containers from the Sokhna Port to factories situated in Egypt’s industrial zones. Following their shipment to the dry ports in each region, customs clearance operations are conducted. The high-speed train encourages investors to engage in the industrial zones by streamlining the transportation of goods, be they final products or raw materials and production inputs,” he said.
This process occurs in a secure manner, facilitating both domestic and international exports to countries across the globe. “Furthermore, the train serves as a vital means for transporting goods locally between the governorates of the Delta and Upper Egypt as far as Aswan,” he added.
“In particular, the high-speed train will prove instrumental in transporting agricultural products from projects such as Toshka, East Al-Owaynat, and New Delta, ensuring swift transport from dry ports to local markets and enabling exports to international markets. A single train can accommodate up to 80 containers, mitigating heavy transport on the roads, enhancing road safety, reducing accident rates, and safeguarding lives. This multifaceted approach contributes to preserving the environment by mitigating the impact of emissions,” he stated.
MORE THAN FREIGHT: The question arises of why the project was not confined to freight, given its obvious benefits in this area and the reduced passenger traffic owing to its extension into new and remote areas.
“Restricting the project to a freight track alone would not foster development in the new areas. Incorporating passenger lines is instrumental in propelling development by facilitating the creation of new job opportunities for millions of citizens, the operation of factories and farms, and the establishment of a comprehensive and integrated community in these regions,” Al-Ashmawi said.
“Each station will transform into a vital hub within its respective area, subsequently giving rise to residential, commercial, and industrial facilities. This approach aligns with the state’s objectives of encompassing urban expansion and the promotion of investments across all regions, particularly in remote areas,” he added.
Challenges encountered during the implementation of the high-speed train project have included land acquisition and navigating through archaeological areas, Farouk said, adding that during the first phase, particularly on the first line, one challenge was crossing the Nile River in the densely populated Helwan area characterised by high population density and privately owned land.
Collaborative efforts with residents facilitated by the Egyptian Survey Authority meant that people affected by the project were compensated.
Obstacles related to utilities and electricity pylons were also encountered. One of the hurdles involved building the track in 6 October city over an overhead bridge spanning a distance of 14.5 km. The decision was discussed with the Giza governorate to ensure the city remained undivided, he explained.
Progress on the blue line is ongoing, as work on this line started later than on the green one, Farouk said.
Regarding obstacles in building the railway amid archaeological sites in Upper Egypt, Farouk explained that the blue line, beginning from Hadayek October and ending at Luxor’s Abu Simbel, avoided areas with high population density, except in the Minya governorate.
“To circumvent significant archaeological sites such as the Valley of the Kings and the West Bank, the railway deviates from a direct path and crosses the Nile eastwards in the Qena governorate and connects with the third red line. The route then traverses the Luxor Station, retracing its path to the west of the Nile all the way to the city of Abu Simbel,” Farouk said.
Sameh Al-Nimr, project manager at the Hadayek Al-Ahram Station, said this serves as an interchange station with the blue line, facilitating the transport of both goods and passengers over 37.5 feddans. The station — which 700 workers are constructing daily — comprises two identical main buildings, each housing three large halls dedicated to departures and arrivals, as well as a central hall.
The station is equipped with four platforms, each extending over 420 metres, and connected by five pedestrian crossing bridges. Each platform accommodates three train tracks, with two lines per track.
As far as safety is concerned, Al-Nimr said the project is very safe owing to the absence of intersections along its route, whether on bridges shielded by 12-metre walls or on elevated bridges distant from car routes and pedestrian crossings.
DEVELOPMENT AIMS: Al-Nimr said the project with its three lines is a “parallel Suez Canal”.
The high-speed project is poised to establish a thoroughfare for commercial activity and the seamless transport of goods from the furthest point in Egypt on the Red Sea to the remotest location on the Mediterranean, he added.
This lays the groundwork for the establishment of logistical hubs featuring dry ports overseen by international companies. It catalyses the development of urban and industrial communities, alongside the creation of educational and healthcare institutions.
These collective efforts, he added, open new vistas in the labour market, presenting millions of job opportunities across different fields. Additionally, the economic impact of the route is anticipated to be substantial, with container transportation rates projected to exceed 23 million per month.
Amr Badawi, head of the National Authority for Public Expenditure and responsible for the Hadayek October and Giza Badrashin stations, said he is tasked with coordinating land expropriation along the train’s path, particularly in the Badrashin area. “This requires an equitable approach towards people who own land in these sites. The emphasis is on ensuring that they receive all their entitlements, starting with compensation for crops grown on the land. Moreover, they are compensated for any buildings and facilities affected.”
“In cases where grievances arise regarding compensation rates, a thorough review is conducted to arrive at fair values that satisfy people fully. To further support the affected individuals, monthly rental values are provided until the full compensation amount is received,” Badawi said.
Mohamed Ali, deputy director of the Badrashin Station, noted that the station, spanning an area of 32 feddans, is almost 40 per cent complete. “The site is seeing the efforts of approximately 500 workers, among them both labourers and engineers. It is anticipated that the workforce will expand in the coming period,” he said.
Maha Shalabi, responsible for overseeing the operations of the October and green line on the high-speed train, said the central workshop is being constructed on 1.5 million square metres, equivalent to 550 feddans.
The workshop, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, will oversee maintenance operations conducted in collaboration with major international companies. Plans are underway to establish another central workshop in the Qena governorate, she added.
Finally, Sayed Ragab, the Giza Station manager, said the main station building comprises three floors and boasts a floor area of 5,400 square metres. The project also involves the construction of a bridge over 360 metres, two platforms, and four train tracks 17 metres above the ground.
This approach ensures accessibility to the railway station from Aswan and Upper Egypt in order to facilitate movement between Lower and Upper Egypt, he concluded.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly