Egypt was the location of the first railway line in Africa, opened in 1854 between Alexandria and Kafr-el-Zayat, extending to Cairo two years later. It was built to standard (1435mm) gauge. The line subsequently extended to Suez, and for a few years prior to the opening of the Suez Canal a great deal of Anglo-Indian traffic was carried between the two points, avoiding the long and perilous sea journey around the Cape of Good Hope.
The standard gauge main line eventually extended along the Nile Valley as far a Luxor, but from there to Aswan the line was built to 3ft 6in (1067mm) narrow gauge. This was part of Cecil Rhodes’ grand vision for an African transcontinental railway “from Cairo to the Cape of Good Hope”. Railways of this gauge were built in the Sudan, eastern and southern Africa; however, only the countries in the south of the continent were ultimately linked together by this gauge. The line from Luxor to Aswan was converted to standard gauge in the 1920s.
In addition to the standard gauge network, a number of industrial narrow gauge railways were built. Of these, several 2ft (610mm) gauge networks remain in operation, serving sugar plantations in the Nile Valley of Upper Egypt.
There are no international links today. A link with Palestine was established following World War I, which became of great strategic importance during World War II when it formed part of a through route to Turkey. The link was severed on Israeli independence in 1948. A rail connection to Tobruk in Libya opened in 1942, but closed in 1946 when it was no longer required for military purposes.
In 2020, plans were announced for extensions from the existing railway at Sallum near the Libyan border, westwards to Benghazi in Libya and southwards to Siwa.
In 2021, contracts were signed for the construction and operation of phase 1 of a new network of high speed rail lines for passenger and freight traffic. Contracts for phases 2 and 3 followed in 2022. Phase 1 is a 660km line from Marsa Matouh on the Mediterranean to Ain Sokhna on the Red Sea via El Alamein, Borg el Arab, 6th of October City, and the New Administrative Capital, together with a branch from Borg el Arab to Alexandria. Phase 2 is 1100km from 6th of October City to Abu Simbel near the border with Sudan, via Qena, Luxor, and Aswan. Phase 3 is 225km from Qena to Hurghada and Safaga on the Red Sea. A commitment to an extension of phase 2 from Aswan to Wadi Halfa in Sudan has been agreed by the Egyptian and Sudanese governments, but no timescale has been given.
© 2004-2022 Glyn Williams
Photo image by Wrightbus from Wikimedia Commons