Name: Egypt, Misr مصر
Language: Arabic; some English is written and spoken in tourist areas. Tourist information staff do of course speak English but will almost invariably advise taking a “Superjet” air conditioned bus. Timetables and related information are shown at main stations only in Arabic. Local railwaymen speak no, or practically, no English.
Currency: Egyptian Pound (EGP). As of 12/20 approximate value £1 = EGP 21
National railway system
National Railway Operator
Egyptian National Railways (Al-Sikak al-Ḥadīdiyyah al-Miṣriyyah السكك الحديدية المصرية)
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.
Summary timetables are available in some editions of the European Rail Timetable.
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.
Extensive information is available at the Man in Seat 61.
- World Rail Atlas - North, East and Central Africa by Neil Robinson.
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 often require reservations. The sleeper services up the Nile and to Mersa Matruh need to be booked in advance in summer. This can be done 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
- Ordinary services. Foreigners are NOT expected on these and one's presence will be viewed with suspicion but this should not prevent travel. Tickets can be bought either at ticket offices at stations or on the trains. Reservations are certainly not required but the trains can be very crowded. Tickets are, however, absurdly cheap so loose change and small notes are useful, especially if paying on train. If tickets are bought from a ticket office, they may well be Edmondson style tickets in Arabic and English.
National Agency for Egypt's Railways - Egyptian Railway Authority - ERA
None as such known... various statements mostly involving major infrastructure projects occasionally emerge
The narrow gauge systems had largely disappeared by the 1960s or earlier.
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 (2009), 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: the first phase of the 103 km Capital Train ‘light rail transit’ electric suburban railway is now open.
The old metre gauge tram system was once the most extensive tram system in Africa, spanning the whole city including suburbs like Heliopolis. It covered 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 it finally succumbed around 2015. A small section of tramway operated in the suburb of Heliopolis until 2019, when the tracks were dismantled to allow road widening.
- Alexandria: this 32km standard gauge system opened in 1863 and serves 20 routes, with 140 stops. A basic system line map is provided by the Alexandra Passenger Transport Authority - APTA Tram line map. See also the Urban Rail map. The system is to be modernised, so should persist into the foreseeable future but in probably a less "quaint" format see the Railway Gazette article. It is one of only three tram systems in the world that uses double-deck cars (the others are Blackpool and Hong Kong). Typically services are operated with two or three cars/trailers coupled together; one vehicle is for women only.
Recent and future changes
The 68·8 km first phase of the 103 km Capital Train ‘light rail transit’ electric suburban railway, connecting Cairo with 10th Ramadan City and the New Administrative Capital, opened on 4 July 2022. It runs from an interchange with Cairo Metro Line 3 at Adly Mansour, east of Cairo, eastwards for 28·6 km to Badr, where it splits into branches north to Knowledge City in 10th Ramadan City, and south to Arts & Culture City in the New Administrative Capital.
On 28 May 2022 Siemens announced it had signed an €8.1bn contract to construct 2000 km of high-speed line and supply 41 Velaro high-speed trains, 94 Desiro regional trains and 41 Vectron freight locomotives. This includes €2.7bn agreed in September 2021 for the 660 km mixed traffic electrified railway connecting Ain Sokhna, on the Red Sea near Suez, with Borg El Arab, southwest of Alexandria, via the New Administrative Capital and 6th October City. On 23 February 2023 a contract was awarded for the supply and installation of 330 km of trackwork.
The second phase will comprise a 1100 km line from Cairo to Abu Simbel, near the Sudanese border. The third phase will comprise a 225 km line from Luxor to Hurghada, on the Red Sea, serving the key port of Safaga. The signalling will be based on ETCS Level 2.
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. 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%.
Various local services, some over lines of considerable length, have disappeared over the years:
Luxor - Al Kharga by 2015 and probably much earlier; Ishmailiya - Bir el Abd (Sinai) probably around 2011; Mersa Matruh - Sollum by 2007.
Obscure and Sparse Passenger Services
ENR is the most complex and densely trafficked system in Africa, with about 3500Km of passenger lines. Services are generally quite frequent and run largely on a daily, almost unchanging basis. The bulk of the system lies in the Nile delta, bounded by Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said. The only other lengthy routes are along the Mediterranean coast to Mersa Matruh and up the Nile Valley to Aswan, some 900Km south of Cairo.
Cairo’s main station is Ramses, which has some complications:
- Services operating on the route to Etay el Barud (well north of Cairo) initially set off south over the Nile bridge but 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, south of the overbridge, and accessed from the west side of Ramses.
- Furu’a terminus is very close to, but separate from, Ramses and 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 at Ramses and walking up the side of the station. Furu’a enjoys a separate route from Shibra el Kheima (about 5 km out), most notably running around the carriage sidings away from Ramses.
- Limun station is opposite Furu’a and also close to Ramses. It 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 Ramses platform 1 but, if this is locked, a 5-10 minute walk around the block is required.
Travelling around by rail
In general rail travel in Egypt is not particularly difficult, nor are there any sections of the network from which foreigners are banned, although plenty where they are not expected to travel. Outside the tourist areas, one may be regarded with deep suspicion, and certainly curiosity, being probably the only westerner they have seen. “Where you go” is the standard question if they know any English. However, the police are clearly suspicious of anything different from normal tourism and often check up on people by claiming to "help" them.
Consequently anybody intent on much of a trip (and certainly anywhere off the beaten track) should obtain the only available translation of the ENR timetable. This is based on the July 2004 timetable but, apart from some withdrawals, is still largely unchanged.
Photography is technically illegal, and subject to fines and confiscation, as all public utilities are considered military installations. The current security situation means that this position has certainly not been relaxed. However, a little common sense on where and when to take photos means there is usually no problem but one must be prepared for the occasional railway policeman or railway employee intervening. Conversely a correspondent was given cab rides and taken pictures quite openly, and even of train crew themselves at their insistence.