Off the rails: Egypt’s deadly record of train accidents

Firefighters at the scene of the train crash at Cairo’s main railway station on Wednesday, above. (AFP)
Updated 28 February 2019
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Off the rails: Egypt’s deadly record of train accidents

  • The country was among the first to introduce trains, but poor maintenance and deadly accidents have tarnished its history

CAIRO: The train accident in Cairo’s Ramses Station on Wednesday is just the latest in a long list of major railway disasters in Egypt that have caused hundreds of  deaths in recent decades. 

And while the cause of the most recent accident remains uncertain, people at the site of the crash appeared to be frustrated at the government’s failure to revamp the railway network.

“Is my fate to die (on the tracks)? It happens all the time ... what do the authorities do?” asked a man travelling from the Upper Egyptian province of Minya.

His comments speak to a larger frustration. 

Egyptians have long complained that the government has failed to deal with chronic transport problems in the country, where roads are as poorly maintained as railway lines, and fatal train accidents are a common occurrence. 

Figures from the official statistics agency show that there were 1,657 train accidents in 2017, up from 1,249 in 2016.

Trains are a vital component of the average Egyptian’s transportation, with 1.4 million passengers traveling by rail every day. The country’s railway lines stretch over 9,570 km through 705 passenger stations.

Egypt was the second country in the world after England to introduce the railway, and the first to do so in Africa and the Middle East. 

Construction began on July 12, 1851, with a line between Alexandria and Kafr Eassa beginning operations in 1854. Cairo’s Railway Museum, which opened near the Ramses Station in 1933 and was revamped in 2017, tells the story of this proud history.

So what went wrong with the region’s oldest rail system? Officials often blame the network’s poor maintenance on decades of negligence and a lack of funds.

Major train accidents date back to at least the 1990s. For instance, in December 1995, 75 people were killed when a train crashed into the back of another train.

The worst accident in Egypt’s history happened in February 2002 in El-Ayyat, 70 km south of Cairo, when a train traveling from Cairo to Luxor caught fire and travelled for 9 km before it was halted. While the death toll was placed at 383, some say it could have run as high as 1,000.

The last major incident occurred in August 2017, when two passenger trains collided near Egypt’s Mediterranean city of Alexandria, killing more than 40 people and injuring scores.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has called for a revamp of the national rail system, and during the past four years, the state has made various renovations to the railway lines, costing more than 300 million Egyptian pounds ($17 million). 

Last year, Egypt signed a deal for new passenger coaches worth $1.14 billion with a Russian-Hungarian consortium; the previous year it signed a $575-million deal with General Electric to buy 100 locomotives.

After Wednesday’s accident, the government was quick to respond. El-Sisi called on his government to carry out an investigation and to hold those responsible accountable.


Former Egyptian president Morsi buried in Cairo: lawyer

Updated 18 June 2019
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Former Egyptian president Morsi buried in Cairo: lawyer

  • Morsi, was suffering from a benign tumor, had continuous medical attention, says state TV
  • The former president died aged 67

CAIRO: Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi was buried on Tuesday in eastern Cairo, one of his lawyers said, a day after he collapsed in court and died.

“He was buried in Medinat Nasr, in eastern Cairo, with his family present. The funeral prayer was said in Tora prison hospital” where he was declared dead on Monday, his lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maksoud said.

Egyptian state television announced that Morsi, 67, who was ousted by the military on July 3, 2013, had been attending a court session at his trial on charges of espionage and links with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

It was reported that he collapsed in the courtroom inside a glass cage he and others had been sharing, before his body was transferred to a local hospital.

Morsi died from a sudden heart attack, state television reported early on Tuesday, citing a medical source. The source said the former president, who was suffering from a benign tumor, had continuous medical attention.

Attorney-General Nabil Sadiq issued a statement saying: “The accused, Mohammed Morsi, in the presence of the other defendants inside the cage, fell unconscious, where he was immediately transferred to the hospital.

“The preliminary medical report stated that by external medical examination they found no pulse, no breathing, and his eyes were unresponsive to light. He died at 4:50 p.m. and no apparent injuries to the body were found.”

Sadiq added he had ordered the transfer of teams from the Supreme State Security Prosecution Office and the Southern Cairo Prosecution Office to conduct an investigation into Morsi’s death, and to examine surveillance footage from the courtroom and collect witness testimonies.

He also ordered that a senior forensic committee headed by the chief medical officer and the director of forensic medicine to prepare a forensic report on the cause of death.

Various outlets say that a state of high alert has been issued by the military and the Ministry of the Interior throughout the country following the news, for fear of riots or activity by the Muslim Brotherhood, in which Morsi was a prominent figure.

Morsi became president in June 2012 after the first democratic elections in the country following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak on Jan. 25, 2011. He was Egypt’s fifth president.

He was born to a family of farmers on Aug. 20, 1951, in the village of Al-Adwa in Sharkia province. He married in 1978 and leaves behind his wife, five children and three grandchildren.

Following his deposition and arrest, Morsi was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on Oct. 22, 2016, over bloody clashes that took place on Dec. 5, 2012 in front of the presidential palace in Cairo, between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and opponents of Morsi rejecting a constitutional declaration issued in November of that year.

Other sentences meant his total incarceration could have been up to 48 years, with the ongoing espionage case potentially carrying a further maximum sentence of 25 years.

In Istanbul on Tuesday, hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters took to the streets, mourning former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi and some chanting slogans blaming Cairo authorities for his death.

* With AFP