Egypt - General Information
Egypt, Misr مصر
National railway system
National Railway Operator
Egyptian National Railways (Al-Sikak al-Ḥadīdiyyah al-Miṣriyyah السكك الحديدية المصرية)
Arabic, some English written and spoken in what might be considered tourist areas.
Egyptian Pound [EGP] as of 12/20 approximate value £1 = EGP 21
The Complete Egypt Train Timetable offers some key intercity journeys
None known that are current.
The only comprehensive timetable of ENR translated into English was that produced by Hassoun Media (Gary Goldfinch) in 2004. It contained a geographical map of the whole ENR system and a schematic of the web of lines in the Delta.
Mentioning Gary Goldfinch, he also authored "Steel in the Sand - The History of Egypt and its Railways" (2003 - ISBN 1-900467-15-1) which is still available, but contains no really useful maps.
A useful site is the The Complete Egypt Bus Timetable, which lists a selection of main inter-city routes and to tourists destinations many of which are far from any railway line.
Often mini-buses or similar (pick up trucks) ply in an apparently random (to the foreign observer) pattern often travelling once full (or full enough to accommodate the driver) from wherever you are to where you wish to go so long as you can clearly impart where you wish to go! These might just be within larger towns/cities or in some cases over long distances taking many hours.
World Railway Atlas Vol. 7 North, East and Central Africa, First Edition, December 2009, by Neil Robinson (ISBN-13: 978-954-92184-3-5).
has a lot of variable maps in various forms and histories; but that entitled
ALEXANDRIA - GIZA | Phase 1 of High-speed Rail Network is in fact a very clear schematic of railways in the Delta; in fact south of this map now the only PASSENGER railway runs to Aswan via Luxor, the "branches" having closed to passenger traffic if they ever carried.
There are two major categories of trains in Egypt: main line trains and sleepers that foreigners might be expected to use and which require (often) reservations; these can typically be booked online through ENR itself or various agencies. See the The Man in Seat 61 Cairo to Alexandria section for an excellent and up to date discussion on this and many other related topics.
The deluxe sleeper trains from Cairo to Luxor & Aswan: are privately operated and not part of the ENR ticketing system, see:- ERNST Sleeping Car Trains
All the remaining (generally semi-derelict) ordinary services tickets can be bought either at ticket offices at stations or on the trains. This is part of Egypt where foreigners are NOT expected; your presence will be viewed with suspicion but this should not prevent travel. These train most definitely don't require reservations and can be very crowded. They are however by UK standards absurdly cheap so loose change and small notes are useful especially if paying on train.
National Agency for Egypt's Railways - Egyptian Railway Authority - ERA
None as such known... various statements mostly involving major infrastructure projects occasionally emerge
Standard. Cairo Trams were metre gauge.
Cairo Metro Line 1 - 1,500 Volts DC overhead, Lines 2 & 3 - 750 Volts DC 3rd rail
Rule of the road
The bulk of the network is single track but, from observation where double track exists, the rule appears to be left hand running e.g. at passing loops. This reflects its origins in British operational practice.
Distances including most intermediate stations were published in the 2004 Gary Goldfinch English Translation of the contemporary ENR timetable. Maps in Neil Robinson's World Railway Atlas, Volume 7 , have distances, in km, shown at stations; otherwise all but summary and sample distances are unknown.
Sugar Cane railways 610mm gauge exist mainly on the West bank (numerous ferries for tourists visiting Valley of the Kings etc etc) but some on East bank of the Nile around Luxor; some can be seen from the main line south towards Luxor; these lines can be readily observed and photographed from public places without difficulty.
None. But there is a railway museum at Ramses station in Cairo that underwent considerable expansion in 2016.
Cairo has a three line metro with a system map at Cairo Metro Map.
General info on passenger service, including opening times and line lengths, is given in English at Cairo Metro info.
Coaches only for women, and their families, are provided in all trains with fines for men entering them.
Cairo: this system which once spanned the whole city, including suburbs like Heliopolis, to extend 120 km but shrank with both metro expansion and demands for road space over several decades. Events surrounding the Arab Spring in Cairo caused it to be severely damaged; parts did persist in the suburbs but it is understood the most extensive tram system in Africa finally succumbed around 2015. The system was metre gauge.
Alexandria: Split operationally between Blue and Yellow trams Alexandria tramway network serves the city of Alexandria, Egypt. It began operating in 1863 and consists of 32 kilometers (20 mi) of track, serving 140 stops. It is one of only three tram systems in the world that uses double-deck cars; others being Blackpool and Hong Kong! Typically services are operated with two or three cars/trailers coupled together and one vehicle in the ensemble is allocated for women only. The system is 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge. A basic system line map is provided by the Alexandra Passenger Transport Authority - APTA Tram line map. It was recently announced the system will be modernised so should persist into the foreseeable future but in probably a less "quaint" format see https://www.railwaygazette.com/light-rail-and-tram/alexandria-tramway-to-be-modernised/57777.article
Recent and future changes
In March 2021 the World Bank approved a US$440m loan to support the Railway Improvement & Safety for Egypt (RISE) project, which has a total value of US$681·1m, with a US$241·1m contribution from ENR. It is a continuation of the ENR Restructuring Project concluded in 2020, which included the modernisation of signalling on the Alexandria – Cairo and Beni Suef – Nag Hammadi routes. RISE continues work on those routes, and renewal of track and signalling between Cairo and Beni Suef.
In April 2021 the African Development Bank approved a €145m loan to support RISE. Rail’s share of the passenger market is predicted to increase by 2029 from 8% to 15% and of the freight market from 6% to 10%.
Introduction: General comments and a focus on some of the more unusual sections based on travels around 2007 (with an update where available)
In general rail travel in Egypt is not particularly difficult, nor are there any sections of the network from which foreigners are forbidden to go, although plenty they are not expected to go! However there are some particular conditions to consider; Timetables and related information are shown at main stations (and at smaller ones not at all) in ARABIC and no other language,and do not expect local railway men to steer you right as they will speak no or practically no English. The tourist information places do naturally have people speaking English but will almost invariably advise you to take a “Superjet” air conditioned bus wherever you want to go and be clueless about much else! Consequently anybody intent on much of a trip (certainly anywhere off the beaten track!)should obtain the ONLY translation of the ENR timetable into English if possible or get a copy from someone who does which is based on the July 2004 timetable; Experience is that to date with some notable exceptions all addressed below the timetables still hold pretty much to those translated in 2004. (Things have certainly changed on some peripheral lines as commented below, it’s suspected not so much in the lines in the Delta and up the Valley to Aswan but reports from Egypt are sparse, especially off the “tourist routes” and given the tumultuous upheavals the country has gone through subsequently (at least one full scale revolution and a counter revolution) travelling conditions and such aspects as photography may be a lot worse than before.
Ticketing does not present an issue as so long as you can find your train you can always buy on the train, and particularly in 3rd class the fares are practically nothing by western standards; even in the air-con classes they rarely exceed a few pounds (UK) even for very long runs, the sleeper services up the Nile and to Mersa Matruh in summer need pre-booking A single cabin from Mersa Matruh to Cairo, offering a western standard compartment covering some 500Km and evening meal/breakfast costs $72 (in 2007) which is still remarkably good value!
However if you have the chance to buy tickets from ticket offices, and can actually convince the clerk as to where you want to go, you should be rewarded by Edmonson style tickets often in Arabic and English!
Photography is technically illegal, subject to fines and confiscation, as all public utilities are considered military installations! However a little common sense and indeed craftiness about where and when you take photos usually means there is no problem, although be prepared for the odd officious railway policeman or railway employee who will emerge from nowhere bellowing “no photo, no photo”; conversely your correspondent has been given cab rides and taken photos quite openly even of crews themselves at their insistence! It all really boils down to where you are and who’s around. (As noted above the security situation in Egypt and recent history is unlikely to have relaxed the official posture on photography!) Whilst on this subject, more generally there are two Egypt’s, “tourist Egypt” inside which you are expected to spend money on whatever facilities or goods are provided and outside this bubble where you are probably the only westerner ever seen, certainly the subject of curiosity “where you go” is the standard question and where you can be regarded with deep suspicion.
To put ENR into context, it is certainly the most complex and densely trafficked system in Africa; services are generally quite frequent depending on context and run with the exceptions below on a daily almost unchanging basis; similarly trafficked systems in north Africa are all much smaller while the larger systems like South African Railways have typically only 1 train a day on a few principle routes. All of ENR is standard gauge the narrow gauge systems having largely disappeared by the 1960s or earlier, its passenger routes amount to about 3500Km; the only other significant passenger operations are trams and metro in Cairo (Sketchy reports indicate a lot of damage to Cairo tramway infrastructure during the assorted riots punctuating transition from one administration to another with trams burnt out and wires torn down and stolen, also the Helwan tramway system, south of Cairo, has been reported as out of operation due to dewirements but whether this persists is unknown) and trams in Alexandria. The bulk of the system lies in the delta roughly bounded by Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said; beyond these rough bounds are routes along the northern coast to Mersa Matruh and up the Nile Valley all the way to High Dam south of Aswan some 900Km south of Cairo.
To operate the system ENR has nominally about 700 diesel locomotives split roughly between GM of USA and Henschel of Germany, none of ENR is electrified, the mainlines are colour light signalled with British pattern lower quadrants everywhere else.
To focus on a few more interesting sections; taken roughly north to south.
Alexandria avoiding line; Abis-Murharram Bey c.2Km; this is the only seasonally operated line on ENR in that it only sees the summers only (mid June- mid September) direct daily daytime trains Cairo-Mersa Matruh and v.v as well as the thrice weekly summer only sleeper, although the latter traverses the curve around 03.00! (there’s no reason to believe these do not run as before)
Mersa Matruh to Sollum; this is the Western Desert Extension actually built from just outside Mersa at Simla to the present day border town of Sollum; although in 1942 the line reached well into Tripolitania (Libya) reaching Belhamed over 260km from Simla. According to the July 2004 timetable this had a weekly train out at 07.40 on Mondays and back on Tuesdays at 07.05 taking about 10 hours! In contrast the Superjet bus does it 3 times a day at most taking 4 hours!! This service has ceased, the train failed to run either way on the occasion of a recent visit (2007) and all “enquiries” as to whether the train ran, or on different days all seemed to meet with complete denials as to its existence however the question was phrased (mimed!) or whoever was asked!
Ishmailiya to Bir el Abd; perhaps the most bizarre service in Egypt is the daily “Sinai Peace train” (NOTE! This service from a brief correspondence through Flikr with an Egyptian who had been looking and commenting on the associated photos has ceased to run probably around 2011 (guesstimate) which is hardly surprising as it was completely pointless and the security situation in Sinai is now very poor, in fact for westerners downright lethal!) that runs from Ishmailiya on the main Cairo-Port Said route, the train is formed of two typically clapped out 3rd class coaches sandwiched top and tail fashion between a couple of GMs and runs from a platform so far behind the main station it is not even formally linked by subway. All attempts to establish when or if this train runs were met with denials and it was only by loitering and awaiting “events” before the timetabled 09.30 departure it became clear this odd formation was indeed the train! The locals were astonished anyone let alone a westerner wanted to travel on it especially as it turned out not even to go where thought or indicated in the contemporary timetable. The train veers off the Port Said line just 13km north at Ferdan and turns away quickly towards the $110m fully retractable bridge over the Suez canal, it was possible to watch the two opposing sections swinging over a period of about 20 minutes across the canal to eventually open the way to northern Sinai. It became apparent that your correspondent was the only passenger possibly in months!?, there were 3 crew on the loco and a party of about 10 sand shovellers….more anon…….and an ENR engineer doing the rounds. Dismounting briefly to confront the “border officials” before crossing the bridge to show passport and relate as best one could intended movements, the official seemed really only interested if going to, had visited before, or indeed had any inkling that the Sinai bound traveller wanting to visit Israel, and as it was responded “no, no and er…no” and he could not find a trace of an Israeli stamp in the passport yours was apparently free to look at the sand of Sinai!! The line was opened just under 100km from Ferdan to Bir el Abt by Mubarak himself in 2001 and was the notional first stage in restoring the original route across Sinai to Haifa and then gain access to the whole west Asian system. However events have not worked out, (then and of course gone positively backwards since!) as the route runs through Gaza and the political situation has made advancing the project or even diverting it untenable, so now it has in fact retrenched back to a total middle of nowhere spot called Rumella, 63Km out from Ferdan. Once away from the canal the crew relaxed and provided a cab ride, they said the line beyond Rumella was out of use now possibly for two years (2005) and after a trundle through empty desert stopping to occasionally clear sand (and take photos!) and passing though a couple of totally isolated intermediate stations we arrived in Rumella, beyond which the track looked collapsed and even weedy, the train returned to Quantara East almost immediately where the crew left the train, the timetable has two return trips shown between here and Bir el Abt (in reality Rumella) but the utter futility of running these is too much even for them as Quantara East is itself 5km from the canal with nothing but scorching desert between. The train cannot return until nearly midnight as the bridge only opens for rail traffic twice a day and shipping is naturally the priority, so the whole exercise occupies a crew of 15? two locos and a couple of coaches every day to no purpose whatsoever! Your rail based Sinai tourist escaped on the bus the staff whistled up from Quantara East and crossed the canal on the free ferry which happily docks just below Quantara West station from whence the train to Cairo just happened to be leaving 10 minutes later!
Tanta avoiding line; this is essentially a long curve running direct from the line approaching from Muhallet Ruh onto the Cairo main line. Tanta is a very important traffic centre and all other trains reverse her on this route but daily one train runs southbound around the curve, it is the 05.10 ex Kafr el Sheikh, but it can be picked up at Muhallet Ruh at 06.15 off the first local out of Tanta at 05.00 (arr. MR 05.21) running then to Cairo. There is no reciprocal northbound working.
Cairo termini; Cairo’s main terminus and indeed through station is Ramses, this would become familiar almost immediately to any traveller in Egypt but there are some complications, services operating on the route to Etay el Barud well north of Cairo initially set off south and sharing the Nile bridge then veer off at Imbaba and run along the west bank of the western branch of the Nile. The two platforms are well out of sight accessed from the west side of Ramses and are positioned south of the over bridge and it’s quite possible not to find your train and miss it if you don’t find these platforms exist! Cairo Furu’a terminus is very close to but separate from Ramses situated just to its north east, it is served by services to/from Minuf and most readily accessed by the subways part way down the platforms and walking up the side of the station; it enjoys a separate route from Shibra el Kheima about 5 km out most notably running around the carriage sidings away from Ramses. Opposite this and again close to Ramses is Limun station which was once apparently Italianate in style but now has a gloomy interior and an exterior like a bomb shelter. It takes traffic from Zaqazig and is accessed via a wholly different route from south of Shubra el-Kheima. It can theoretically be accessed via a gate at the top end of Ramsess platform 1 but if they have locked this it’s a 5-10 minute walk around the block.
South of Cairo the 2004 timetable had trains serving a very obscure branch off the main Luxor route to 6th October once a day and from Beni Suef to Lahun twice a day (once Fridays) however both attempts to find these trains and enquiries locally and back in Cairo all seem to indicate that services on these routes have ceased. (Notably in 2020 a new High Speed project mentioned this as a traffic node on its projected north south route)
Aswan to Aswan High Dam is the very southern end of ENR, but it terminates in two separate places; a handful of longer distant trains, some associated with boats to the Sudan (Wadi Halfa) run to the marbled floor extensive terminus at El-Sadd-el-Aali nominally 896.9km from Cairo, however many more trains operating the local service as far as Aswan as they head south veer right as they approach the northern periphery of this station and call at a rather anonymous halt where the service nominally ends. However it was clear by “local watching” this was not the ultimate destination and indeed the train drew forward about 500m to a run round loop, so all trains have to venture here. Here, is nowhere in particular but has a much larger traffic base than the official terminus and the locals bailed off straight to the ballast and similarly scaled up the sides without the aid of a platform while the locomotive ran around with no concern as to their comings and goings, although a westerner on the ballast taking photos attracted a long stare.... but nothing more. This spur undoubtedly supplied materials during construction of the Aswan High Dam under Soviet sponsorship 1960-70, the whole area previously being criss-crossed by narrow gauge construction railways. This dam eventually lead to the creation of Lake Nasser which covering over 2000 sq. miles is arguably the largest man made body of water in the world stretching over 300 miles to the Sudan.
Luxor-Qena-Paris Junc.-Paris Oasis/Al Kharga The 07.00 ThO Luxor-Al Kharga, (was!) the WEEKLY train! Having actually sat in the sleeping car reservation office in 2004 chatting to the manager it was found this train actually ran at all and then at what times (days!). This line has apparently ceased to all traffic including phosphates to Safaga possibly about 2015.