No train back home: Egyptians struggle without railways

Randa Ali and Sara El Sheekh, Wednesday 11 Sep 2013

Egyptian passengers pay extra on micro-buses as they await decision to resume train operations; Railway authorities say it's in the hands of the Ministry of Interior

Egyptian men rush to catch a train after hours of waiting due to a train drivers strike at the main train station in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, April 8, 2013 (Photo: AP)

The sound of train horns has stopped at Cairo station. The Cafeteria, known for its endless customers, is closed. There are no long queues of travellers pushing and shoving to purchase tickets to get on a train.

The newly-renovated 159 year-old station that connects all 27 governorates is deserted.

No one is on site except for a few construction workers and security personnel preventing people from entering.

According to the official website for Egypt’s railways, the institute assists in the transportation of around 500 million passengers annually (1.4 million per day).

This is the first long-term closure the railway system has experienced since the 18-day uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

By order of the Ministry of Interior, no trains have been allowed to travel across Egypt since the violent dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-ins on 14 August by security forces, in fear of potential attacks by supporters of the deposed president. 

Train-less Egyptians meet drivers

“Aswan!” cried Ramadan, a senior Upper-Egyptian man, as he stood in the plaza of the station announcing a bus leaving for the Upper Egyptian governorate.

Ramadan and hundreds of his colleagues load travellers everyday in the bustling microbus and bus depot adjacent to the train station.

Passengers heading to Aswan - 861 KM away from the Cairo - now pay 95 EGP - almost twenty pounds more than they used to before the train crisis started.

“Of course people complain about the increase, but the price of diesel and bus tyres is increasing, not to mention the added pressure on drivers and buses,” said Ramadan, who added that last month he sent a maximum of two buses to Upper Egypt, but he now commissions at least four or five.

While the stoppage may have benefited drivers, it has negatively impacted travellers depending on the train for transportation.

“Drivers are using the situation and raising their prices. I used to pay 50 pounds to go to Sohag - 452 KM south of Cairo. Now, i can pay up to 70 pounds,” said Hazem, an employee who has to travel to Sohag at least three times per month for work.

Marwa, a house-wife from Alexandria, also expressed her frustration with the current situation, saying that no alternative transportation equates with the train’s safety and comfort.

“I came by microbus yesterday and it was horrible. It took us five hours on the road - a two and a half hour trip by train. Security services had to stop us to search the vehicle, and i was alone,” complained Marwa.

"It's very hard without the train because there aren't enough microbuses and I usually take the train from Banha - around 50 km north of cairo - to Cairo, five days a week to work as a doctor in the hospital,” 26 year-old Zeinab El-Hadidy told Ahram Online.

El-Hadidy added that, whilst she usually has to wait for half an hour until the train leaves the station, the bus is commonly delayed for two hours or more because of the traffic or accidents on the road.

"Not to mention that it's difficult to find a place to sit and sometimes I have to wait until there are fewer people in order to sit down. It's even more difficult as a young woman, and it's not as comfortable as the train."

El-Hadidy, who hardly makes it to work on time when travelling by road, commented that the rise in fares has provoked fights between passengers and drivers.

"Today people were having a fight with the driver because of the price. Usually it costs 3.5 or 4 EGP, but since the trains stopped it's 6 EGP, sometimes 8, depending on the driver and the number of people."

"Every time we are told by the press that the trains will run again on a certain date, it gets postponed, so I have no idea when there will be trains again," she adds.

An informed source from the Egyptian National Railways (ENR) confirmed with Ahram Online that no date has been set for the re-operating of trains, adding that the decision is not in the hands of the ENR but the Ministry of Interior.

Over the past few weeks, security forces have announced the detection of a number of explosives in different locations in Cairo and other Egyptian cities, including mortar rounds on the Suez-Ismailia railway line.

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