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It’s not only Egypt’s trains that are on the wrong track

Complaining that trains in the Netherlands are often delayed by a few minutes, a Dutch friend told me: “If other nations have punctual trains, we should not demand less.” While the Dutch criticize their railway’s lack of punctuality, we in Egypt pray that we will reach our destinations safely, no matter the delay.
Living in a country that has one of the highest road and railway accident rates in the world lowers our expectations. Rather than dream of a comfortable, punctual and affordable commuter rail network, we hope only to arrive home in one piece.
Just over a week ago, 42 people died and more than 100 were injured when two trains collided near Khorshid station on the outskirts of Alexandria. Human error was blamed for the disaster. Sadly, news of train collisions, bus crashes caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel or boats sinking because of passenger overload is no longer shocking in Egypt.
The Egyptian state likes to brag about its success in expanding road networks and building bridges and infrastructure, and argues that the high population growth rate and citizens’ ignorance are the main reasons for the deterioration of facilities. Seeming to value human lives less than infrastructure expansion results in building more roads on which people can be more easily killed.
Human beings are the most crucial and advanced component of any country’s modernization effort. However, when the government does not appear to truly value the life of its citizens, it is unlikely that less educated drivers will do so. The Egyptian government appears to believe that human development is all about the ability to digest technical knowledge and eventually pass various exams, overlooking the fact that human development generally should aim at having well-educated, responsible citizens who know how to properly and effectively react to a crisis.

Building new transport and energy infrastructure is pointless without investment in the human capital to operate it safely and efficiently.

Mohammed Nosseir

As was the case with the Khorshid tragedy, the government often attributes these accidents to human error. But the “humans” in these cases are often government employees. Videos on social media showing public buses speeding or train conductors smoking hashish at work should not only lead to the perpetrators being fired, but to changes in the system to prevent their colleagues from indulging in the same behavior.
Neglecting genuine human development and rejecting the use of technology are the real reasons for Egypt’s high rate of road and railway accidents. A small device can be placed on any vehicle to prevent it from speeding and determine its location. The state should use its substantially inflated workforce to avoid employee misconduct by reducing working hours, while maintaining strict discipline and productivity.
The government regularly advances the argument that it is working under strict budget constraints. However, Egypt’s plans for a nuclear energy plant at Dabaa, even with a $25 billion loan from Russia, refute this argument. A nation that cannot prevent avoidable road and rail accidents should not even dream of a nuclear power plant, even one managed by international experts. The project should be abandoned completely and immediately. We need to prove that we can crawl before insisting that we can run a marathon. Instead, let’s invest the money in reducing our accident rate.
Empowering Egypt’s human capital would enable them to go beyond their normal capacities, walking the extra mile to prove that they are responsible citizens. We need to create a harmonious relationship between our people and the engines they operate. Egyptian government employees need to understand that driving a vehicle, or a train carrying hundreds of people, requires an exceptionally responsible and conscientious citizen. They will not realize this on their own; we desperately need good governance to apply this vision.
New roads alone will not produce professional employees, but educated citizens could easily build and develop solid roads, and much more. We have been using our resources to expand concrete structures that won’t function properly unless they are managed by the right people. The Egyptian government needs to work on better developing its citizens, who will be the true assets of modernization. By limiting our ambitions, we have ended up with a miserable transport system that lacks all comfort and safety.

Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom.