Interview: Ramy Salah Eldeen
What role can rail transport play in improving the sustainability of cities with high population densities, such as Cairo?
RAMY SALAH ELDEEN: Egypt has a long history of rail transport; it was the second country to introduce a rail network after the UK. In the 1980s Cairo built its first metro to facilitate movement across the city. Yet, in the decades before the current administration, there was underinvestment in rail transport. The current government recognises the importance of rail infrastructure, which can act as a backbone for economic growth by improving the efficiency of trade and logistics, and contributing to the quality of life in the country’s largest cities.
While the recent expansion of the road network has reduced congestion, Cairo continues to be one of the world’s fastest-growing urban areas, with numerous development projects in progress under Egypt Vision 2030. Additional means will be required to move commuters between the city centre and the New Administrative Capital (NAC) – located 35km east of Cairo – when businesses populate the area.
Launched in 1987, Egypt’s oldest rail line moves approximately 1.5m passengers per day. As part of plans to upgrade this line, 55 new metropolis trains will be added to the fleet, and a newly-signed eightyear maintenance contract will improve safety and comfort on the metro while also boosting energy efficiency. At the same time, Egypt has undertaken the development of a two-line monorail rapid transit system. The 54-km line will connect the NAC with East Cairo, while the 42-km line will connect Giza to the 6th of October City, forming the longest, driverless monorail system in the world.
By developing the NAC’s transport infrastructure from the outset, it will be able to support employee commutes, which is essential to transforming the city into a liveable and socially inclusive place for residents. With access to a robust public transport system, the city will face less traffic and congestion, and experience a reduction in air and noise pollution levels. These benefits will add to the city’s appeal as a destination to live and work.
How are digitalisation, automation and other smart technologies affecting the development, safety and efficiency of rail transport?
SALAH ELDEEN: Digitalisation and automation are at the centre of the rail transport industry, impacting passenger journeys in both obvious and subtle ways. With Wi-Fi now available on trains, passengers can remain connected throughout their journeys. Digitalisation can improve logistical data for decision-making, while the implementation of advanced technology in automation and signalling can also produce significant positive impacts. Indeed, in addition to expanding its rail network, Egypt is carrying out targeted efficiency and safety improvements through modernisation projects. The Beni Suef-Assiut line, as an example, is installing enhanced signalling, power, telecoms and trackside equipment.
What is needed for Egypt to achieve its aims of being a logistics hub in the MENA region?
SALAH ELDEEN: Trade and logistics infrastructure is essential for economic growth and development. Egypt benefits from its geographic position and the Suez Canal, through which so much international commerce passes. By investing in digital systems, Egypt will be better able to leverage its position at the heart of global trade.
Modernising the rail network is a key driver of the country’s economic expansion. Egypt will continue to see a significant increase in rail development projects over the next 10-15 years. Furthermore, the projects and investment occurring outside of Cairo are expected to extend economic opportunities and growth to the country’s smaller cities and rural areas.