After three years of negotiations with Chinese companies over a new railway project, Egypt and China have signed a $1.24 billion contract to construct an interurban light rail to the east of Cairo, in a step that hopes to improve the deteriorating Egyptian railway system.
The new project is being funded through a $739 million loan from the Exim bank of China—one of three institutional Chinese banks that implement state-issued policies related to diplomacy and foreign trade—while the remaining $500 million will receive funding from the Egyptian budget.
The signing ceremony had a high level of presentation from both sides. Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, Transportation Minister Hesham Arafat, Chinese Ambassador to Egypt Song Aiguo in addition to representatives from China’s AVIC International and China Railway Group Ltd have attended.
With a total distance of 66 kilometers and 11 stations, connecting Cairo to the New Administrative Capital as well as Shorouk City, Obour City, Al-Salam, 10th Ramadan City and Badr City, the new line will improve the traffic movement in that area.
Reducing Traffic Pressure and Creating Jobs
The new rail line will reduce the pressure on the existing network that is barely keeping up with the ever-increasing number of passengers. By taking 340,000 passengers per day from the existing network, the new light rail line will noticeably reduce traffic in the East Cairo region. This will be particularly noticeable on the Cairo-Ismailia freeway, an essential route connecting the capital to the New Administrative Capital and its surrounding suburbs.
Besides being a much-needed infrastructure project, the benefits of the new light rail project don’t stop there. The state-owned AVIC International and China Railway Group Ltd are going to assign multi-billion Egyptian pound contracts to Egyptian contractors. Contractors who will work on the project include the Arab Contractors and Orascom Construction Industries (OCI). This will result in thousands of job opportunities.
"Chinese companies will offer technology and equipment, while local companies will be responsible for the construction," daid Han Bing, the Chinese Embassy’s Minister Counselor for Economic Affairs, to China Radio International.
A Much-Anticipated Decision
Modernizing the current railway system is becoming more of a pressing need by the day as fatal accidents are now happening at a record-high rate. The latest accident took place this August when a train from Cairo crashed into the back of another train coming from Port Said, resulting in the death of more than 43 people while injuring 100 others.
Upgrading the severely-outdated rail network is a waste of time and money. The new modernizing approach is without a doubt the best way forward for the railway system.
"It is not a good idea to update an already old train or network. The whole network and trains should be modernized and I believe that we need a pioneer partner like China to make a leap in our railway system," said Mohammed Shehata, head of the Egyptian Transport Association, told the China Daily.
The new project starting in September and will take two years to complete. We can only hope this is the beginning of a building a solution for a problem that has already claimed too many lives.