The government has approved plans to operate high-speed trains connecting Hurghada on the Red Sea and Luxor in Upper Egypt with stops at Safaga, Qusseir and Marsa Alam and linking Marsa Alam and Luxor.
A consortium of companies has been announced to implement the plans over the next three years. Studies are currently underway for the building of the high-speed train lines in 2020, with a view to developing Upper Egypt, generating jobs and boosting tourism.
The high-speed links will also help to merge beach and cultural tourism, said Rami Fayez, the investor behind the idea of the high-speed trains and a member of the Chamber of Hotel Establishments on the Red Sea and the Marsa Alam Investors Association.
Fayez told Al-Ahram Weekly that “according to 2018 figures, 12.7 million tourists visited Egypt, 60 per cent of them staying in the Red Sea area, including El Gouna, Hurghada, Sahl Hashish, Makadi Bay, Safaga, Qusseir and Marsa Alam.
“The remaining 40 per cent were divided between cultural tourists visiting cities such as Luxor and Aswan and embarking on Nile cruises, one-day tourists, business visitors to Cairo, and travellers coming for conferences or events such as festivals.
“Five million tourists stay in the Red Sea area, but visitors to Luxor and Aswan are far fewer,” he added, saying that this was what had driven him to come up with the idea of the high-speed trains to encourage “10 or 20 per cent of the five million Red Sea tourists to explore Luxor and Aswan.”
Many tourists could be discouraged from making the trip from the Red Sea to Luxor and Aswan because the roads connecting the destinations were not to international standards, he said, adding that there had also been complaints about standards of driving.
Fayez said that electric trains would not be used on the projected lines because of their high building and operational costs and the need for high-voltage power stations. “We have a contract with the China Railway Construction Corporation [CRCC], a state-owned company that has built 60 per cent of China’s railways, along with Dubai’s underground project and the high-speed train system in Mecca. It has vast experience in the field of high-speed railways,” he said.
“We have also contracted the German Siemens Company, in cooperation with the CRCC and the Arab Organisation for Industrialisation, to start the execution of the project in 2020.”
The project is in line with other plans to open up new destinations and opportunities for tourists in Egypt, Fayez said. “When the new high-speed railway lines are inaugurated, they will connect the Red Sea with cities in Upper Egypt. This is based on a meeting President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi convened in May, in which he wanted to see new forms of transport connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas with non-coastal cities in Egypt,” he told the Weekly.
“Now that we have obtained the government’s approval, the high-speed trains can be joined to the new railway network the president wants to see connect Alamein on the Mediterranean Sea to Ain Sokhna and then Hurghada, Safaga, Marsa Alam and Luxor,” Fayez said.
The project is expected to cost $7.8 billion.
The second high-speed rail line from Marsa Alam to Luxor should see journey times of 90 minutes or so, he said, adding that “food will be transported on these trains in refrigerated storage areas to deliver it to Red Sea hotels. This will be loaded in Upper Egypt and will arrive in Marsa Alam in perfect condition instead of bringing the food from Cairo in trucks in journeys taking six hours and affecting the quality and freshness of the food.”
The locomotives with refrigerated services will help generate jobs for Upper Egyptians who travel to Cairo or the Red Sea cities looking for work opportunities. “There are about 380 hotels in the Red Sea area, and their kitchens can get all they need from Upper Egypt. So besides delivering fresh food to these hotels, Upper Egyptians will also be able to work in jobs related to crops and livestock. Upper Egypt will be the main source of everything the Red Sea hotels need on a daily basis,” Fayez added.
Hotel occupancy rates in Marsa Alam range between 75 and 80 per cent, and “10 per cent of the tourists using them will be encouraged to embark on one-day trips to Luxor and Aswan for sightseeing. In 90 minutes, vacationers will be transported from the beach to ancient Egyptian temples. Cities like Luxor and Aswan will also be operating all-year round, not just from October to March,” he said.
“Egypt’s cultural tourism has declined because of the adoption of the promotional methods for archaeological sites used in the 1970s. We have got to see more repeat visitors. Tourists who visit the Luxor and Karnak Temples could see them from different angles, for example,” Fayez suggested.
Some archaeologists have objected to the idea of constructing cable cars in archaeological areas that may lead to the damage of antiquities, however, another one of Fayez’s ideas.
“But the archaeological sites will not be touched. The sky-tram stations will be erected one or two km away from the sites, which will not require changes on the ground,” Fayez explained.
With the exception of skiing, Egypt has all it needs when it comes to tourism, he said. But “Egypt still falls in 64th place on the list of tourist countries. Spain receives the largest number of tourists worldwide, and Dubai’s revenues from tourism recorded $31 billion last year alone. We have vast potential that we don’t know how to capitalise on,” he said.
Egypt and the US TV channel CNN have signed a cooperation protocol to promote tourism in Egypt. Among the promotional materials is This is Egypt, a documentary from which 45-60 seconds are aired after news programmes.
Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism has also signed other cooperation deals with advertising companies to promote Egypt online, important since 30 to 40 per cent of tourism reservations are now made online.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 31 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.