Egypt's first monorail: Building the high ride

Niveen Wahish , Friday 13 Nov 2020

Head of Egypt operations at Bombardier Transportation Ahmed Eldamanhoury explains the work underway to build the country’s first monorail transport system to Ahram Weekly

Building the high ride
Building the high ride

Signs are being put up in the western Cairo district of 6 October signalling that a new monorail is under construction.

However, this means of transport, new to Egypt, will not cause significant traffic disruption, Ahmed Eldamanhoury, head of the Egypt office of Bombardier Transportation, told Al-Ahram Weekly in an interview this week.

The Canadian multinational, together with Orascom Construction and the Arab Contractors, signed a deal to build Egypt’s first monorail in August 2019, and work on it is now underway. Unlike the extended road closures needed in some parts of Greater Cairo to work on the underground metro system, the new monorail needs only minimal groundwork to build the pillars that will carry the elevated train, Eldamanhoury said.

Over the past couple of years, the government has been working on expanding the transportation network in Greater Cairo through new buses, new underground metro lines, the new monorail, and a new electric train line, with many of these facilitating access to the New Administrative Capital set to be inaugurated next year.

The many announcements of these new forms of transport have left many people confused as to what the new monorail will look like, with some imagining it could be suspended from the top, much like an amusement park ride.

However, this was not the case, Eldamanhoury said, as in fact the new trains will straddle an elevated beam.

Monorail technology was not well known around the world, he said, because the technology in its current form for use in high-density mass-transport systems had only come about some 10 to 15 years ago.

Two monorail lines are in the works. When they are finished, a commuter will be able to take the monorail from the first industrial district in 6 October City to Mohandessin, a 42km ride, change to take the third metro line and get off at the Cairo Stadium and then take the other monorail heading east through Tagammu to the New Administrative Capital, a 54km ride.

While this is still a long ride, it will make the trip much shorter than if done by car, for example, Eldamanhoury said.

The design and construction of the new monorail will cost some $3.2 billion, with another 1.6 billion euros earmarked for the 30-year operations and maintenance contract. Bombardier Transportation is taking care of the system and the trains, while a joint venture between Orascom and the Arab Contractors is implementing the civil engineering works. Both lines should be up and running by 2023.

The advantage of a monorail compared to other elevated trains or the underground, according to Eldamanhoury, is that the engineering works needed are fewer and therefore cheaper.

In comparison to an elevated metro line, the monorail will be some 30 to 40 per cent cheaper to build, he said, yet will carry the same number of people, run at the same speed, and provide the same safety and comfort.

The monorail can carry between 9,000 passengers per hour in a two-car train to 48,000 passengers per hour in a multiple locomotive train.

The use of the monorail as a form of technology is still not widespread, which is why there are comparatively few manufacturers and those offering other types of transportation sometimes try to discredit it, he added.

Besides the new Cairo monorails, the company has built another system running in Sao Paolo in Brazil, a busy city much like Cairo in which the line serves 40,000 passengers per hour each way. It also has two lines in Bangkok and two in Wuhan in China, both of which are high-density systems.

A main challenge facing the monorail and similar projects in a city like Cairo comes in utilities such as water pipes and electrical cables. These have to be either moved or the construction teams must try to avoid them.

Eldamanhoury said that when compared with other big cities in Europe, Cairo was behind in public transportation compared to the size of the population. Any mass-transport line added to Cairo would thus likely make a huge difference to the movement of people and would ease traffic congestion.

The two Cairo monorails, which will cover around 100km between them, equivalent to the three lines of the underground metro, will make a huge difference to traffic levels because they can replace not only passenger cars but also microbuses or buses.

They will also be serving areas that are not yet receiving sufficient transport services including the New Administrative Capital. Once the latter is fully operational, people will need efficient transport to get there, making mobility easier and helping to expand communities.

Eldamanhoury said that the decision on which means of mass transportation would be needed, whether buses, trams, metro lines, a monorail, or regional trains, depended on the density of the urban environment, and one or more solutions could go side by side.

The construction of transport projects was very costly, and so was their maintenance, he said. No government would spend millions on them if there was not a real need, and investment in infrastructure takes place as needed.

On consumer pricing, Eldamanhoury said that ticket sales alone would not cover the construction and running costs because the cost of transportation projects was very high.

But he said that subsidising ticket prices could serve the government in other ways, such as cutting traffic, reducing fuel consumption, reducing pollution, and saving time spent in transit. Such advantages could reflect positively on the economy and the well-being of citizens, he said, adding that it was rare for similar projects anywhere in the world to cover their costs, let alone make a profit.

In order to finance the work, the company is bringing on board Italian and UK export finance agencies to help fund the project. These will pay the companies concerned, and the government will pay back the financing institutions over the long term.

This financing has guided the sourcing of the locomotives, which are manufactured in the UK. However, nothing prevented the locomotives from being manufactured in Egypt, and this could be an option in the future. In the meantime, discussions are underway with the minister of transport on local manufacturing.

Eldamanhoury said that infrastructure projects could support the economy and the creation of jobs. Bombadier employed between 300 and 400 engineers, he said, and labour on the civil engineering works was much more labour intensive.

But “this is only the tip of iceberg. The rest is the Egyptian economy providing the services to make the project come to light,” he added, with this including local subcontractors and the local sourcing of material and components.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly


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