Emergency plan is imperative to maintain safety of Egypt's railway

Ahmed Morsy , Sunday 22 Jul 2018

Egypt’s dilapidated railway network makes headlines once again following the derailment of three carriages in Giza

Derailed train in Badrashin
The derailed train in Badrashin, a black spot for accidents (Photo: Reuters)

Sixty-one people were injured when three carriages of a passenger train heading from Cairo to Qena derailed on Friday 13 July in Marazik village, close to Badrashin station.

Prosecutor-General Nabil Sadek immediately confiscated the train’s black box and formed a technical committee to investigate the derailment.

The prosecution also issued a four-day detention order for the driver of the train, his assistant and four other railway employees pending investigations.

On Monday the investigating judge extended the detention for a further 15 days.

The technical committee formed by the prosecution includes specialists from the Armed Forces Engineering Authority and the Ministry of Transport. After inspecting the scene of the accident, it was revealed the number of casualties would have been much higher had palm trees not prevented the train from falling into a canal adjacent to the rails.

“The cause of this week’s accident is being investigated. As yet it is too early to reach any conclusions,” said Minister of Transport Hisham Arafat.

Arafat has already referred 15 railway officials to the Administrative Prosecution for interrogation.

Badrashin in Giza is a notorious black spot for accidents. Last month a train collided with a truck. No injuries were reported.

In May 2017 a cargo train derailed in the area leaving 27 injured. In September 2015 two carriages overturned resulting in the death of five and injuring 27.

In January 2013 a train carrying soldiers derailed, killing 19 and wounding 117. In November of the same year a train collided with two vehicles at a crossing point killing 27 and injuring 30.

“Railway officials come and go. Every new comer says he will fix the problems and develop the railway network and then nothing changes.

The problem is there is no accountability,” says Osama Okail, professor of road and railway engineering at Ain Shams University.

The real problem, Okail told Al-Ahram Weekly, is that the entire domestic railway network is moribund and needs to be radically upgraded.

According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), 13,539 train accidents occurred between 2004 and 2016. In 2017 alone, 1,793 accidents were reported on the railway network.

Eighty per cent of the accidents in 2017 involved collisions at crossing points.

“The sector desperately needs updating. Modern electrical signals need to be installed and diesel engines replaced with electric ones,” says Okail.

Eighty-five per cent of the network still uses mechanical signalling systems, he says, and the signal system at crossings still depends on the telephone. Ninety per cent of engines run on diesel.

Egypt’s railway network is among the world’s oldest. It transports 500 million passengers annually, an average of 1.4 million passengers each day, according to the Egyptian Railway Authority (ERA).

Earlier this year Arafat announced a five-year overhaul programme, including the installation of a fully automated signalling system, costing LE55 billion.

ERA head Sayed Salem said that an emergency plan to reduce accidents is currently being applied pending the completion of the long-term upgrade.

In an interview with DMC channel he said emergency plans include taking 40 trains out of service, cancelling stops at some stations and increasing the number of carriages per train to avoid overcrowding.

“We have already removed 199 carriages more than 45 years old from service and all workshops now have quality control panels to ensure trains are rail worthy before each journey,” said Salem.

The ERA has also implemented intensive staff training programmes.

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

During the inauguration of the first phase of the New Alamein City in March President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said upgrading Egypt’s railway network will cost between LE200 and LE250 billion.

Later the same month MPs approved amendments to the law governing the ERA, giving a green light to private sector companies to build, manage, operate and maintain the railway network.

The amendments allow the ERA to establish joint-venture companies that can be listed on the stock market.

Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal described the move as “a crucial step” in relieving the problems — “huge debts, outdated operating systems and dilapidated locomotives” — crippling the ERA.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 July 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Emergency rail plan 

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