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Thursday, 29 July 2021

Egypt’s roads and railways: Powering ahead

Al-Ahram Weekly reviews what has been achieved in Egypt’s road and transport sector since 2014 and what to anticipate by 2024

Ahmed Morsy , Friday 19 Feb 2021
Egypt’s roads and railways power ahead
Construction works are undergoing for Egypt's first monorail that runs from Nasr City's Cairo Stadium through Tagammu to the New Administrative Capital, a 56km ride (photo courtesy of Transport Ministry)
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In his policy statement before Egypt’s new parliament on 31 January, Minister of Transport Kamel Al-Wazir said that it had been planned to implement 2,173 projects at a total cost of LE1,522 billion from 2014 to 2024 in the sectors for which the ministry was responsible. Some 1,273 projects had already been already accomplished, he said, at a cost of LE355.6 billion.

“Since President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi launched his vision to build a more modern Egypt, the wheels of work have not stopped implementing this vision through the giant projects that have been undertaken in various fields to achieve progress and development in the country,” Al-Wazir told MPs.

Infrastructure projects, among them transport projects, have been major components of this vision, with the government and political leadership seeing the transport sector as “the main artery on which all economic and social development programmes in the country are built,” the minister said.

“Within the framework of the Egypt 2030 Sustainable Development Strategy, the ministry is currently implementing a comprehensive plan to develop and modernise the country’s transport system as a whole, including roads and bridges, railways, the underground metro and electric railways, sea ports, river transport, land and dry ports, and logistics centres,” Al-Wazir said.

ROADS AND BRIDGES

Al-Wazir said that the roads and bridges sector had seen major developments, reflected in Egypt’s rank on the World Economic Forum’s International Competitiveness Index for road quality.

President Al-Sisi launched the National Road Project in 2014 with the goal of developing and extending Egypt’s 23,500km road network. When the project was launched, Egypt ranked 118 in terms of the quality of its road infrastructure in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competition Report. By 2019, it had climbed to 28th place.

Ali Al-Biali, a professor of urban planning at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, said that the National Road Project “will not only improve internal trade, but will also increase foreign trade” since it “will link the domestic road network with the international one”.

“Economic growth will be positively affected as a result,” he said.

The number of road accidents in Egypt also fell by around 30 per cent in 2019 to 9,992, down from 14,403 in 2014, according to a report by Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) issued in June 2020.

From 2014 to 2024, it was planned to implement 1,769 projects in the roads and bridges sector at a total cost of LE464 billion. So far, 1,052 projects costing LE254.3 billion have been executed, the minister said. Since 2014, of the 7,000km of new roads envisaged by the National Road Project, 4,800km have been built at a cost of LE120 billion. 1,400km are currently being constructed at a cost of LE37 billion.

Among the newly constructed roads is the 350km Sharm El-Sheikh Road constructed at a cost of LE3.2 billion and inaugurated in 2019 with the aim of shortening the journey time between Cairo and Sharm El-Sheikh to four hours. 

Of the existing 9,000km of roads that need to be improved at a total cost of LE107 billion, 5,000km have been upgraded at a cost of LE15 billion. Meanwhile, upgrading work on 125 projects is being done on a further 2,500km of roads to raise their efficiency at a cost of LE27 billion. 

Ayman Hassan, a professor of architecture at the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University, said the construction of the roads was even more important as it had been long delayed. “The country can be likened to an elderly man suffering from atherosclerosis. These new roads are the pillars — the coronary stents — that will enable him to recover and perform his daily activities once again,” Hassan said.

Mohamed Al-Barmelgi, head of the Urban Planning Department at the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the road network was “one of the most important elements of development” for any country. “The roads that are being constructed are paving the way for development and acting as important arteries to bring about the required development in the country,” Al-Barmelgi said.

One of the important projects is the development of 106km of the Greater Cairo Ring Road at a cost of LE8 billion, Al-Wazir said. The project, which will expand the Ring Road from eight lanes to 14, or from 37.2 metres to 60 metres in width, was earlier said by the prime minister to be essential in relieving the pressure on roads in Cairo, increasing traffic liquidity.

Ring road
Development works underway for the Greater Cairo Ring Road to expand it from eight lanes to 14, or from 37.2 metres to 60 metres in width, February 2021

Regarding bridges, Al-Wazir said that it was planned to construct about 1,000 new bridges and tunnels at major road intersections and railway crossings at a total cost of LE140 billion. 756 new ones have been successfully constructed over the past few years at a total cost of LE105 billion.

In 2020 alone, 156 bridges and tunnels were built and inaugurated, among them 26 bridges in east Cairo that were built during the same year.

Al-Wazir said that new transverse axes were being constructed across the River Nile from a comprehensive development perspective, not merely to connect the two banks of the Nile. The idea was to reduce the distances between them to 25km and to link the urban centre with the centres of economic and productive activity.

Aswan axis
One of the recently-constructed axes running across the River Nile in Aswan Governorate

For this reason, he said, it was planned to build 22 bridges or tunnels across the Nile by 2024 at a total cost of LE34 billion, bringing the total to 60 instead of the 38 before June 2014.

Eleven have already been implemented, including the Talkha, Benha, and the Tahya Masr Bridge, the world’s widest cable-stayed bridge, and the Adli Mansour Bridge at a cost of LE14 billion. Construction work is ongoing on four more.

RAILWAYS

“A comprehensive plan has been drawn up for the development of the railways and to make a quantum leap in the level of service provided to passengers through the development of all elements of the current system,” the minister said.

The ministry plan includes the development of the signalling and communication systems on the main railway lines, updating them with modern electronic systems and providing them with central control systems to prevent any human errors, in addition to installing the latest global automatic control system (ETCSL1) to increase safety standards. Lines and signalling systems will be electrified. 

The plan also includes the development of operations and control systems at railway crossings, providing them with advanced systems that work automatically when trains approach without human intervention and targeting 1,120 crossings nationwide.

Al-Wazir said that it had been planned to implement 257 railway projects at a total cost of LE220 billion from 2014 to 2024, of which 177 projects costing LE45 billion have been completed. He said that 52 projects at a total cost of LE43 billion were underway, and 28 other projects at a total estimated cost of LE132 billion were scheduled to be executed before 2024.

The ministry plan also includes developing railway engines and carriages at a total cost of LE48.2 billion through various agreements.

One of the already-signed agreements is a 2019 US$602 million deal with General Electric to supply 110 new engines in addition to providing maintenance for 15 years for a further 181, of which 100 have already been received and 15 have been rehabilitated.

One of the most notable agreements for importing carriages is a 2018 deal with the Russian-Hungarian consortium Transmash Holding to import 1,300 railway coaches, of which 227 have already been delivered.

The deal, described as the largest in the history of the Egyptian railway sector, is worth more than one billion euros and comprises 500 aerodynamically ventilated third-class coaches as well as 800 air-conditioned ones. Five-hundred of these are third-class air-conditioned carriages, a service offered to such passengers for the first time.

Train carriage
A picture showing a train carriage during its receipt at the Alexandria port as part of a deal with Russia's Transmash Holding, January 2021

Egypt’s railway sector, the second oldest in the world with 9,570km of track running across the country and transporting around 500 million passengers annually, needs to be radically upgraded, according to experts. Eighty-five per cent of signalling systems at crossings still use manual signalling rather than automated systems.

According to Hani Sobhi, a professor of railway engineering at Ain Shams University in Cairo, safety on Egyptian trains has been compromised “by a failure to maintain equipment.” CAPMAS figures indicate that while the number of train accidents in 2010 was 1,057, this had increased to 1,863 in 2019.

Osama Okail, a professor of road and railway engineering at Ain Shams University, said the domestic railway network “needs to be radically upgraded”. A presidency statement in May 2020 said that the total debts of the Egyptian Railway Authority had reached LE250 billion.

“The signals at crossings still depend on the telephone. Ninety per cent of engines still run on diesel. The sector is long overdue for an overhaul. Modern electrical signals need to be put in place, and diesel engines should be replaced with electric ones,” Okail said.

In 2018, former transport minister Hisham Arafat said that the real problem “is not the engines or the carriages but signals and infrastructure,” adding that “some 98 per cent of train accidents over the last 30 years were caused by outdated signalling systems.” 

Al-Wazir said in his statement that 14 projects dedicated to developing the signal systems had been planned at a total cost of LE46.8 billion, among them five currently being implemented at a cost of LE9.8 billion.

He said that nine other projects that involve duplicating single lines and electrifying signals at a cost of LE37 billion would be executed in the near future. He said that development work at 732 crossings had been successfully completed, and the upgrading of 479 control systems had been accomplished at a total cost of LE1.7 billion.

According to the ministry plan, 1,102 crossings and 1,120 crossing control systems were due to be developed at a total cost of LE2.548 billion.

ELECTRIC TRAINS AND UNDERGROUND

The minister said that the launch of an ambitious plan to develop electric trains and the underground system marked a qualitative leap forward, especially with the construction of the New Administrative Capital, whose first phase is due to be inaugurated later in 2021. This had required the implementation of a number of rail transport projects using electric traction for the first time in Egypt, he said.

The implementation of 27 projects in constructing tunnels and electrical traction was planned, he said, at a total length of 2,200km and a total cost of LE757 billion by 2024. Of these, nine projects costing LE39.6 billion had been completed, and a further eight were being implemented at a total cost of LE310.4 billion. 10 projects expected to cost LE407 billion were due to be constructed.

A 250km per hour electric-train network is planned with a total length of 1,795km and costing LE360 billion, the minister said. Consisting of four lines, the network is set to be implemented within two years.

Its 460km first line, due to be completed in 2023 at a cost of LE100 billion, has 15 stations and will run from Ain Sokhna on the Red Sea to New Alamein City on the Mediterranean coast, passing through the New Administrative Capital and Borg Al-Arab city.

The second line will link the Red Sea’s main port with the port of Alexandria and the Matrouh Gargoub port. The third will connect Hurghada and Safaga on the Red Sea with Qena and Luxor. The last will link 6 October city with Luxor and Aswan.

The project will be implemented by the German company Siemens along with Egyptian companies. Last month, Egypt signed a memorandum of understanding with Siemens for the construction of the network during Al-Sisi’s meeting with Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser in Cairo. 

According to the government, the newly signed project will assist development by connecting the country’s industrial districts in order to transport cargo from and to the ports nationwide. In addition, a number of trains will transport tourists to and from many destinations, and the project will also link the country with neighbouring countries.

Elsewhere, two monorail lines are also in the works. When they are complete, a commuter will be able to take the monorail from 6 October city to Mohandessin, a 42km ride, change to the third metro line and travel to Cairo Stadium, and then take the second monorail east through Tagammu to the New Administrative Capital, a 56km ride.

The first monorail will start from the Nasr City district and has a length of 56.5km and 22 stations, while the second is planned to begin from 6 October city and has a length of 42km and 12 stations. They will have a total cost of 2.695 billion Euros, and there are maintenance contracts for a period of 30 years worth 1.567 billion euros.

They come in addition to the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system currently being constructed in parallel. The LRT, the first such system in Egypt, is scheduled to operate in October 2021 and will connect with the third line of the Cairo underground network at Salam City’s Adli Mansour metro station. It will link Cairo, Obour, Shorouk, Mostaqbal, Badr, and 10 Ramadan city with the New Administrative Capital and have a length of 90km and 16 stations and cost LE35 billion.

LRT
Construction work is being done for Egypt's first Light Rail Transit (LRT) scheduled to be operated in October 2021

All this is being done, Al-Wazir said, in parallel to the completion of the underground metro network in Greater Cairo that includes the completion of the third underground line with a length of 41.2km and a cost of LE97 billion, the first phase of the underground’s fourth line (6 October to the Al-Ashgar district) with a length of 19km and costing LE70 billion, and the implementation of the sixth line (New Maadi to Al-Khosous) with a length of 30km and a cost of LE73.4 billion.

The minister said that “this is in addition to giving the highest priority to developing the operating systems of the first and second lines of the metro, which have been working for 34 years and 25 years, respectively, and need urgent development.” Their upgrading is estimated to cost LE47.5 billion.

Underground metro
A picture showing a new underground metro carriage for the third line during its receipt at the Alexandria port, February 2021

PROJECTS BEYOND BORDERS

The transport minister said that Egypt “is concerned to build land-connection projects with its regional and international neighbours”, especially neighbouring countries.

The aim is to achieve sustainable development and to enhance opportunities for economic integration with these countries and develop trade exchange. Such connections will also help Egyptian exports to reach Arab and African markets, he noted.

One such project is the Cairo-Cape Town Road that passes through nine African countries and has a length of 10,288km, of which 1,155 are inside Egypt, Al-Wazir said.

The Pan-African highway will connect Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Gabon, and lead all the way to Cape Town, the capital of South Africa.

The project dates back to June 2015 when the Egyptian government announced the launch of the idea, seeing it as increasing the volume of trade between Cairo and the African capitals in the light of the activation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement.

The agreement establishing the AfCFTA was signed in March 2018 in Rwanda. The African countries concerned began officially trading under the agreement, which is expected to affect more than 1.2 billion African people in countries having a total domestic product of about $3.4 trillion, in January 2021 following delays owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

Al-Wazir also announced two more projects, one of them the construction of a coastal road from Egypt’s Salloum city to Benghazi in Libya and having a length of 585km and an estimated cost of LE3 billion within Egyptian territory. The road would support Egyptian industry and labour and contribute to the transport of goods to Libya, he said.

The other project is the construction of an Egypt-Chad Road passing through Libya and having a length of 1,102km and an estimated cost of LE22 billion.

The minister also mentioned two new railway projects that will connect Egypt with Sudan and Libya. The first is the construction of the Marsa Matrouh-Gargoub-Salloum Railway and its extension from Salloum to Benghazi in the future, having a total length of 875km, including 315km inside Egyptian territory and a cost of LE15.7 billion.

The second is the linking of the Cairo-Aswan railway line with Sudanese railways over a length of 400km, of which 350km are inside Egypt and will cost LE16.45 billion.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 February, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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