News Analysis: Why train accidents happened several times in Egypt despite railway upgrading plan


by Marwa Yahya

CAIRO, April 22 (Xinhua) — In less than a month, Egypt experienced three train accidents killing more than 40 persons, though the government has been implementing a nationwide comprehensive plan for upgrading the railway system.

“The railway sector is dilapidated, and carriages and coaches are old,” said Emad Nabil, professor of roads with Cairo University.

The control system, which allows for automatic deceleration even brake when faced with an obstacle, is not operated or activated in most trains in Egypt, Nabil said, noting that more reasons are behind the collisions.

In the latest accident, a passenger train derailed north of Cairo last Sunday, killing at least 23 people, and wounding 139 others, according to the general prosecution’s report.

The top prosecutor of Egypt has ordered the detention of 23 people including the train driver, assistant, a railway maintenance observer at the crash site, and others for further investigation into the accident, said the report.

On March 26, two passenger trains collided in the southern province of Sohag, killing 20 and injuring 200 others. Prosecutors said that human errors and gross negligence by railway employees were behind this deadly crash.

Egypt’s railway sector, the second-oldest in the world that commutes around 400 million passengers annually with 9,570 km of track across the country, needs to be radically upgraded, Nabil said.

Egypt’s Minister of Transportation Kamel al-Wazir, who completed his second year in March in a post that has experienced changes of 11 top officials since 2011, announced an overhaul program to upgrade the railway network until 2024 costing 225 billion Egyptian pounds (nearly 14.35 billion U.S. dollars).

“Similar accidents might occur,” said Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly following the collision in Sohag.

The road expert believes that the government has realized the problems, with a national project being carried out to modernize the railways after concluding an unprecedented number of deals with different countries.

The upgrading project will add 350 km of tracks, and maintain 10,000 km of the trains’ network around the country, Nabil added.

In 2018, Egypt signed an agreement with Russia for importing 1,300 railway coaches, more than 200 of which have already been delivered.

However, Hussein Fadaly, former chairman of the National Railways Authority, said that “importing engines and coaches and developing the signaling system are important, but not enough.”

A total of 85 percent of train accidents happened due to human error, Fadaly said.

He explained that the development of the railway sector should involve the human factor, including drivers and other employees.

The train accidents may happen because the entire system is not halted during the process of upgrading, but in Egypt, the decision was to keep operations ongoing, he added.

Egypt couldn’t halt the railway system that transfers nearly one million persons, most of which are low-income, until the upgrading project is complete, al-Wazir’s told state-run TV at the end of March.

According to Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, the number of train accidents increased to 1,863 in 2019 from 1,057 in 2010. Enditem


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