(Cairo) – Egypt gets ready to receive the largest shipment of train carriages in its history.
The carriages, to be manufactured by a consortium of Hungarian and Russian companies, is important for Egypt’s ongoing overhaul of the railways, which have been at the center of national concern for many years now, due to the repetition of railway accidents, ones that have so far claimed the lives of thousands of Egyptians.
Earlier this month, Minister of Transport Kamel al-Wazir met the Vice-President of Russian locomotives and rail equipment manufacturer, Transmashholding, Sergo-Shakhzada Kurbanov, to discuss the deal, which includes the import of 1,300 train carriages to be manufactured by the consortium.
Two model carriages are expected to arrive in Egypt for experimentation in September, in preparation for approval and then final delivery of the carriages. The one billion Euro deal between Egypt and the Russian-Hungarian consortium was signed almost a year ago. Some of the components of the new carriages will be manufactured in Egypt.
The signing of the deal came within the framework of Egypt’s efforts to rescue its creaky trains and improve the conditions of its railways. These railways, the oldest in Africa, turned into a death trap for Egyptians, because of the lack of maintenance and upgrade.
Most of the trains are old and railways operation systems are outdated. Coupled with a lack of training for railway workers and a lack of accountability, these old trains and outdated operation system caused crises over the years, the last of which took place in February this year at the central train station in downtown Cairo. The tragedy left 25 people dead and 45 others injured.
The deal between Egypt and the Russian-Hungarian consortium also includes the construction of a workshop for the maintenance of train carriages in Egypt.
Hungarian Ambassador in Cairo, Peter Kveck, described the deal as the “largest” in the history of relations between his country and Egypt. Egypt pins its hopes on the upgrade of its railways to prevent railway fatalities. It also hopes this upgrade will integrate it more into the world economy, especially with China moving ahead with its Belt and Road Initiative.
The Suez Canal, Egypt’s maritime passageway that links the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, is expected to become a principal component of the initiative. The canal will connect Asia with Africa, on one hand, and Africa with Europe, on the other. In April 2019, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said at the Belt and the Road summit in China that the goals of the initiative corresponded with the efforts made by his country in launching a number of mega-projects.
On top of those projects, he said, is the economic zone of the Suez Canal, which will become an international industrial, trade, and logistics center. “The zone provides promising opportunities for Chinese companies, other member states of the initiative, and all countries worldwide,” the Egyptian president said.
He noted that the zone could be a center for the production and re-export of goods to the entire world, particularly to Arab, African and European states linked with Egypt via free trade agreements. Those following developments of the initiative say that the railways can become at the center of all these efforts. Hungary will also be an integral part of the initiative. It is the first European country to participate in the Chinese plan, being located at the center of the Eurasian world.
Compounding the European country’s important location are also its strong relations with Beijing. These strong relations are why Hungary is being co-opted by China for a major role in the Belt and the Road Initiative.