Upgrade on track as Russian trains join Egypt rail fleet

The number of Russian railway cars that have reached the Egyptian Railway Authority has increased to 68, including the 33 that arrived in two batches weeks ago and are now operating. (Shutterstock)
Short Url
Updated 13 August 2020

Upgrade on track as Russian trains join Egypt rail fleet

  • Egypt’s rail authority confirmed that a new batch of Russian railway cars has been shipped
  • The new batch includes regular, dynamic-ventilated cars that will operate on main railways

CAIRO: Egypt’s rail authority confirmed that a new batch of Russian railway cars has been shipped as part of a contract with the Russian Transmashholding Company to provide 1,300 carriages.
The batch includes 35 carriages on board two ships that are expected to dock at Alexandria before the end of August.
With the arrival of this batch, the number of Russian railway cars that have reached the Egyptian Railway Authority has increased to 68, including the 33 that arrived in two batches weeks ago and are now operating.
The new batch includes regular, dynamic-ventilated cars that will operate on main railways, named “improved second class.”
According to plans, the batch is expected to enter service immediately after arrival and will form from three to four trains.
Mohamed Kamal, an Egyptian transport expert, said that with the arrival of the new batch of Russian railway cars in Egypt, the number of Russian trains operating on the lower and upper Egypt lines will increase to seven.
He explained that the plan is to receive new batches of 35 Russian cars every month, and to be in possession of over 240 new Russian railway carriages by the end of the year.
Kamal added that the cost of the 1,300 vehicles contracted with Russia is more than €1 billion ($1.2 billion) and is financed in the form of a soft loan in collaboration with the Russian Exim Bank. The Russian cars will operate on main lines only.
The agreement with the Russian-Hungarian alliance led by the Transmashholding Company includes the supply of the 1,300 vehicles.
The contract includes the manufacture and supply of 800 air-conditioned vehicles, including 500 air-conditioned third class carriages, which is a new service that is offered to passengers for the first time in the history of the Egyptian railways. The contract also includes 180 second-class air conditioned cars, 90 first-class air-conditioned cars and 30 air-conditioned buffet trolleys.
The rail authority began operating the first three Russian trains to join the fleet just before Eid Al-Adha, after President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi assigned them to transport passengers during the holidays.
The railway commissioned the trains to work on lines between Cairo to Alexandria as well as from Cairo to Aswan. The Russian train now operates alongside a fleet of Spanish, French, Romanian, German and Egyptian trains.


Iranian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on divided Cyprus

Iranian singer Omid Tootian, 46, gestures during an interview at a coffee shop in the UN-controlled buffer zone in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, on September 23, 2020, where he's been stuck since mid-September. (AFP)
Updated 27 September 2020

Iranian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on divided Cyprus

  • Because his songs are very critical of the Iranian regime, Tootian fears that if he returns to the north of the island, he will first be sent back to Turkey and then to Iran

NICOSIA: Dissident Iranian singer Omid Tootian has for days been sleeping in a tent in the buffer zone of the world’s last divided capital, after being refused entry by the Republic of Cyprus.
“I can’t go to one side or the other,” the performer, in his mid-40s, whose songs speak out against Iranian authorities, told AFP. “I’m stuck living in the street.”
His tent is pitched between two checkpoints in western Nicosia, among the weeds outside an abandoned house in the quasi-“no man’s land” that separates the northern and southern parts of Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974.
In early September, he traveled to the north of the Mediterranean island, controlled by the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
Two weeks later, Tootian, who had been living in Turkey for around three years, tried for the first time to seek asylum in the Republic of Cyprus, which controls the southern two-thirds of the island and is in the EU.  But once at the green line, the 180 -km buffer zone that traverses the island and is patrolled by UN peacekeepers, he was denied entry into the south.
Refusing to return to the TRNC, where he fears he would be in danger, Tootian found himself in limbo in the few hundred meters of land that divides the two territories.
“I don’t know why they haven’t approved my entry ... but I think it’s because of the coronavirus,” he said, speaking at the pro-unification Home for Cooperation community center in the buffer zone where he eats, grooms and spends most of his days.
“But I hope things will become clear because now I don’t know what will happen, and it’s a very difficult situation.”
Because his songs are very critical of the Iranian regime, Tootian fears that if he returns to the north of the island, he will first be sent back to Turkey and then to Iran.

Turkey is no longer a safe country for me because the Turkish regime is close to Iran.

Omid Tootian, Dissident Iranian singer

“Turkey is no longer a safe country for me because the Turkish regime is close to Iran,” he said, adding that he had for the past six months been receiving anonymous “threats” from unknown callers using private phone numbers.
In July, three Iranians were sentenced to death by the Islamic republic. Two of them had initially fled to Turkey and, according to the non-governmental group the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Turkish authorities cooperated with Tehran to repatriate them.
Since arriving at the checkpoint, Tootian has tried “four or five times” in a week to enter, without success, despite the help of a migrant rights advocacy group known as KISA and the UN mission in the buffer zone.
According to European and international regulations, Cyprus cannot expel an asylum seeker until the application has been considered and a final decision issued.
The police said “they have restrictions not to let anybody in,” KISA member Doros Polycarpou told AFP.
Cypriot police spokesman Christos Andreou said “it is not the responsibility of the police” to decide who can enter the Republic of Cyprus.
They “follow the instructions of the Ministry of Interior,” put in place “because of the pandemic,” he added.
According to the ministry, “all persons who are willing to cross from a legal entry point to the area controlled by the Republic must present a negative COVID-19 test carried out within the last 72 hours” — a requirement Tootian said he had fulfilled.
Polycarpou charges that the Cypriot “government has used the pandemic to restrict basic human rights.”
A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency in Cyprus Emilia Strovolidou said “there are other means to protect asylum seekers and public health at the same time ... we can test people when they arrive or take quarantine measures.”
“We have someone who is seeking international protection, he should have access to the process,” she added.
Due to the closure of other migration routes to Europe, asylum applications have increased sixfold over the last five years in Cyprus — a country of fewer than 1 million inhabitants — from 2,265 in 2015 to 13,650 in 2019, according to Eurostat data.