Transport Minister Kamel Al-Wazir on Monday answered questions from more than 120 MPs on his policy of importing trains at a high cost, raising the price of train tickets, and the poor condition of roads in Egypt.
Responding to criticism that Egypt imported six luxurious Talgo passenger trains from Spain at a price that cost the state budget too much money, Al-Wazir said that these trains were bought at a 25 per cent discount, compared to the price paid by France, adding that they received another Talgo train and a locomotive as a “gift from Spain, plus 20 years of maintenance, compared to one-year maintenance for France.
“In the past, we were not able to buy a Talgo train because we were short of funding, but we saw that the time had come to buy such luxurious trains which offer high-quality service to citizens,” said Al-Wazir, adding that “the six Talgo trains cost 157 million euros and are financed by a 30-year loan facility from the Spanish government at one per cent interest rate with a five-year grace period.
“We began operating a Talgo train between Cairo and Alexandria one month ago, and a new one will join the same line next week, and in Upper Egypt two Talgo trains will begin operating next week and I think all will see how this will make a big difference in terms of quality. This is a train with an advanced technology and a high speed of 160km/hour,” Al-Wazir said.
Al-Wazir, however, indicated that at present, the Transport Ministry does not have any new plans to import trains from Spain, Russia, or Hungary. Instead, he said, two companies, one private sector and one government-owned, have been contracted by the ministry to manufacture trains, metro carriages, and monorails. “I think this will cut costs and foreign exchange,” said Al-Wazir.
Al-Wazir also defended importing trains from Russia and Hungary. A total of 1,350 train carriages from two companies in Russia and Hungary have been contracted with 725 of them having already been delivered to Egypt, said Al-Wazir, arguing that “it was important to buy these trains to replace old ones which have been in operation for more than 40 years”. The new trains from Russia and Hungary offer high-quality service, including air-conditioned travel for third-class passengers, Al-Wazir said.
According to Al-Wazir, a new train station is being built in Giza to serve citizens travelling to and from Upper Egypt. This new station in Giza’s Bashteel district will start operation at the end of March, Al-Wazir said, indicating that when Cairo’s Ramses railway station was built (in 1854) Egypt’s population was just 10 million, “but now the population is 105 million and so it was natural to build another central railway station to alleviate congestion at Ramses station. The new train station will serve not only Upper Egypt governorates but also Cairo and the Nile Delta cities, he said.
Al-Wazir said that the Transport Ministry is currently planning to build a fast-track electric train network covering 2,250 kilometres, the first three lines of which are under construction (Sokhna-New Alamein-Matrouh; 6 October-Luxor-Aswan-Abu Simbel; Qena-Hurghada-Safaga). The three lines will cover 2,000 km while the remaining line of 150 km, linking Port Said in the east with Abu Qir in Alexandria in the west, will be implemented through a private-public partnership contract.
On road development, Al-Wazir said the Transport Ministry kicked off a 10-year plan for upgrading 10,000 km of roads. The project started in 2014 and will come to an end in 2024, costing as much as LE1.957 trillion, said Al-Wazir, indicating that 7,800 km of roads have already been built while the remaining 2,200 km will be completed by the end of 2024. “These roads are important to accommodate population growth and serve industrial and agricultural projects and the movement of trade,” said Al-Wazir, revealing that the ministry is also currently building 1,000 bridges and tunnels to bring the total to 2,500.
Many MPs complained that the cost of train tickets had become too high for low and average-income citizens. MP Amal Salama agreed that “the quality of the railway service has largely improved, but tickets of the newly imported trains have also made the cost very high for many citizens to afford.”
In response, Al-Wazir insisted that train ticket prices are still largely subsidised. “We are under orders from President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi not to raise train ticket prices during such difficult economic times and so we can say that the train service is still largely subsidised,” Al-Wazir said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly