“No development in 25 years” Egypt’s railway is the complex of successive governments

In the early hours of Friday morning, the Egyptians woke up to a new disaster, which was a collision of two trains in the center of Tahta, in the southern governorate of Sohag, and at least 19 people were killed in the accident, and about 165 others were injured, according to the Ministry of Health statement.

A statement by the Egyptian Railways Authority stated that “at exactly 11:42 pm (Cairo time) a 2011 air-conditioned Aswan-Cairo train collided with the rear of the last car with a 157 train, which led to the overturning of 2 cars from the rear of the stopped train and the 2011 train tractor overturning and the power wagon. It resulted in a number of injuries and deaths. ”

The Egyptian Railways Authority stated in a statement that the cause of the accident was due to unidentified persons pulling the emergency brakes of some cars of one of the two trains, which resulted in it being stopped and the other train colliding with its rear.

The statement stated that “the danger winding (emergency brakes) was opened by unknown persons to some cars of the distinctive No. 157 train heading from Luxor to Alexandria between the Maragha and Tahta stations, and accordingly the train stopped.”

Frequent accidents

Over the past years, Egypt has witnessed tragic train accidents due to the deterioration of the system and the failure of successive governments to reform it.

According to an official Egyptian statistic conducted by the Railway Authority in cooperation with the Central Agency for Mobilization and Statistics in 2017, the number of train accidents in Egypt reached 12,236 accidents between 2006 and 2016. The deadliest accident occurred in 2002, when 361 people were killed after a crowded train exploded south of the capital.

And at the end of February 2019, the Ramses train station in Cairo witnessed a terrible accident, when a speeding train hit a wall at the edge of the station platform, causing an explosion and a huge fire that killed 22 people.

This accident caused the resignation of the Minister of Transport, Hisham Arafat, and the assignment of the entire minister, the head of the engineering authority in the army at the time, to take charge of the transport and communications sector.

Hani Dahi, a former transport minister and current head of the Engineers’ Syndicate, said that most of the train accidents that happen in Egypt are mostly caused by human error from workers.

In statements to the Al-Hurra channel, Dahi confirmed that the current government inherited a dilapidated system that bears the burdens of past years, and pointed out that the railway system in Egypt has not had any development over more than 20 years.

The Prime Minister, Mostafa Madbouly, had stated that his condition, as well as the state, is the same for all Egyptians, “for how long will the railway accidents continue,” stressing that this facility has witnessed decades of neglect, lack of development and maintenance until it has reached a state of obsolescence and extreme danger.

Madbouly added, during his visit to the site of the accident, that Egypt has thousands of kilometers of railway lines, and that control and management were carried out by manual and human factors.

He explained that the cars and railway cars are old and worn out, and some trains have expired many years ago, and we faced this matter because the facility serves millions of Egyptians daily.

Floundering in decisions

The Egyptian railway network is considered one of the oldest in the world, as it is the first railway lines to be established in Africa and the Middle East, and the second in the world after the United Kingdom, as it was established in 1853.

The Egyptian National Railways owns a railway network of more than 5,000 km, primarily serving the low-income brackets. In the fiscal year 2019, the number of train passengers reached about 270 million passengers, compared to 228 million passengers in the fiscal year 2015 and 247 million passengers in the fiscal year 2010.

The cost of operating the system ranges between 4-5 billion Egyptian pounds (approximately 320 million dollars), while the value of revenues is about 2 billion pounds (128 million dollars).

For his part, Professor of Transport and Logistics Economics, Dr. Muhammad Ali Ibrahim, said that a large part of these accidents are due to the wear and tear of the system, and the other part to dependence on the human element in the operation process.

Ibrahim added in statements to the “Al-Hurra” channel that for long periods no maintenance has been carried out on this network or the infrastructure and the means of movement in it, and many aspects have been neglected, indicating that the state is implementing a plan to fully develop and automate the network and reduce dependence on the human element.

Observers attributed the cause of the recent accident to confusion in the minister’s decisions. In November 2020, the Minister of Transport decided to solve the problem of train delays by stopping the electronic path lock system, which protects trains from collisions, which led to the latest disaster, according to observers.

After the accident, Kamel Al-Wazir announced the return of the electronic traffic insurance system to protect lives, according to his statements on Saturday.

Representative Muhammad Abdullah Zain Al-Din, a member of Parliament, also called on the government to speed up the operation of all trains by means of safety, so that they operate electronically, so that the Sohag train accident will not be repeated.
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