By Muhammad Mansour
Benefiting from the Italian expertise in restructuring Egypt’s railway system was top of the agenda in a meeting on Tuesday held between the minister of industry and foreign trade, Hatem Salah, and a delegation of the Italian-Egyptian Business Council (IEBC) at the ministry’s HQ.
The IEBC, co-presided by Khaled AbuBakr and Italian State Railways Managing Director, Mauro Moretti, discussed with the Egyptian minister, Italian assistance in developing the Egyptian railway system, focusing on rehabilitating the railway workers, and developing equipment.
According to the councillor of the Italy Egypt Association for Friendship and Cooperation, Nagy Albert, “there is already an Italian board of directors for the Egyptian Railway Authority (ERA), made up of 10 Italians since 2008.” Yet, Egypt witnessed many train-related deadly accidents, which claimed thousands of lives. This failure was reportedly attributed to the government’s ineptness to apply much-needed domestic reforms, especially to Egypt’s Railway Authority, leading to resignations of senior transport officials.
The train disaster occurred in the small town of Manfalut in Upper Egypt on 17 November when a train collided with school bus. The crash killed at least 50 children.
Nino Cingolani, Co-Chairman of the Egyptian National Railways Transformation Programme (Egypt-Italy) confirmed the government’s responsibility for the railway accidents, as there is neither a commitment nor proper funding to invest in this sector.
In this regard, the Italian team is facing many challenges, “there are 1,100 trains moving every day. To manage such system, we need advanced technology rather than our current system, 85 per cent of which is mechanical. We also need political stability, as seven transport ministers have resigned since 2009,” Cingolani added.
“In the time the government is supposed to spend EGP 4.5 billion a year in the railway system, it spends less than EGP one billion, so we need a commitment and support from the government politically (strategic plan) and financially” Cingolani continued.
Essam Abd Alrazk, Ministry of Industry and Foreign Trade’s media manager, said the Italian delegation came to invest in Egypt as Italy-based companies were worst hit by the financial crisis “but we face the problem of political instability. The transport minister has recently resigned, with whom they will negotiate?” asked Abd Alrazk.
Egypt has a system of 950 kilometre-long railway tracks running across Egypt.
According to Nagwa Albert, head of the ERA’s Central Administration, “a train starts moving, then we find out on returning back, windows and toilets, for example, are looted” said Albert.
“We recently filed a request detailing the challenges we are facing and how to overcome them to the prime minister, but we’ve yet to receive a response” added Cingolani.