The Alexandria Tramway, or el-tram as the Alexandrians call it, was the first public transport system in Egypt and Africa. In existence since 1860, it is still the most popular means of transport for Alexandrians as well as tourists.
Over its long and eventful history, the tram has provided both conveyance and entertainment for Alexandrians and visitors alike. The double yellow carriages begin their journey at Abu-Qir and end at Ramleh Station, passing through the major districts of Alexandria and its outskirts including stops at Ras al-Tin, Misr Station, al-Nozha and al-Werdayan.
Meanwhile the tram with blue carriages takes to the elite areas of the city such as Rushdi, Bakous, Zizinya and Gianaclis. Most of these areas take their names from the wealthy foreigners and pashas who once lived in the cosmopolitan city. One carriage on the blue tram is reserved for women, but during rush-hour women ride in all the carriages. And for passengers who wish to enjoy a panoramic view, there is an open-carriage tourist class tram.
The blue and yellow trams meet at Ramleh Station. Tickets for each cost one pound.
The tram’s first journey starts at 4am, with most of its passengers setting out for work in workshops and factories. The last run leaves at 1am.
Until the 1952 Revolution, most tram drivers were Italian and most of the ticket conductors came from Malta. In those days the tram had a black carriage without doors or windows, which could be attached to transport the coffins of deceased persons.
The history of Alexandria’s tram, including photographs, maps and films that were never published before, was on display at a recent exhibition under the title “Le Raml Tram, tramway d’Alexandrie” at the French Cultural Institute in Alexandria. It was part of the celebrations to commemorate 200 years of Egyptian-French ties, in cooperation with the Alexandria Centre for Hellenistic Studies (ACHS).
The ACHS was established as a joint collaboration between the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Onassis Foundation, the Vardinoyannis Foundation and the University of Alexandria. The centre is open to scholars from around the world who are keen to obtain diplomas, Masters degrees and Doctorates, particularly in Hellenistic studies, in various specialisations encompassing history, literature, art, archaeology, architecture, philosophy and science.
With the aim of promoting the rich history of this legendary tram, the French Development Agency (AFD) is financing the process of renovating and upgrading the tram, led by the Alexandria governorate at a cost of 300 million Euros. The modernisation project is to be accomplished in two phases within three years.
Way of life
Watani was keen to learn the wishes of Alexandria people regarding the modernisation of the famous tram line.
“Ever since we were children, the Alexandria tram has been for us a passion and a way of life,” Alexandria resident Muhammad Saber told Watani.
“It’s the easiest means of transport, especially in rush hour when there are traffic jams,” he added. “Everyone can afford the tram, especially if they are on a limited income. It is also environmental-friendly since it doesn’t cause any kind of pollution, although some Alexandrians who live beside the tramway complain about the noise.”
Another man from Alexandria, Ahmed Salama, said: “The public authority for transport and tram administration has for decades suffered of corruption. Even though the tram serves thousands of students, workers and retired people, it was never properly upgraded. A few insignificant improvements were made every now and then, and the ticket price was raised to a pound. This made some people to switch to microbuses. Now that the tram will be renovated, it is my suggestion to keep the ticket price as it is and to keep the routes of the Ramleh tram, but other routes need to be modernised and yet others should be cancelled. In addition, the tram’s administration needs to be overhauled; it is notoriously overstaffed and this constitutes a heavy burden on its budget, whereas other administrations in Alexandria suffer of labour shortage. Perhaps it would be a good idea to conduct a reshuffle.”
Pride in the tram
Ahmed al-Ghamry, an Alexandrian engineer, told Watani: “We, the people of Alexandria, are proud of the tram and feel privileged to have it compared to other Egyptian governorates. So I see it as very important to promote it so that it continues to serve Alexandrians, and also as a means of attracting tourists.”
“The yellow tram really needs renovation since the cars are dilapidated and many of their windows are broken,” Wafaa Girgis, a young female commuter said. “This makes it difficult to travel on in winter. We also need regular timetables for some routes, and I hope the ticket price won’t go up after the modernisation process.”
Student Bishoi Antar made a very important point. “The tram should not stop except at the main stations. The many stops serve to slow down the journey to the point where, on some routes, the cars block the tracks and the tram has to wait for at least 15 minutes. I hope these defects could be avoided after the renovation. Another very important issue is that, for security and to avoid accidents, the tram doors should not open unless the tram has stopped.”
New tram cars
Khaled Eleiwa, Chairman of the General Authority for Passenger Transport in Alexandria, told Watani that the project feasibility study and technical project study set up in 2013 had been approved by the Ministry of Transport.
“The project aims at finding solutions to problems at all 37 intersections on the 14km Ramleh tram line, building a number of bridges and operating 30 electronic traffic lights on the new trams,” he said. “This project will support the entire public transport system and put an end to the aggravating traffic problem in Alexandria.”
General Eleiwa noted the benefits that the improvements would bring to the people of Alexandria, as well as to tourists. “The volume of cars is too great for the streets of Alexandria to cope with, and people suffer resultant traffic jams. The answer lies in developing means of mass transport such as buses and trams. We expect to reap the benefits in the future. The daily number of tram passengers today is 180,000, but after development passengers could number 300,000.
According to General Eleiwa, 30 new tramcars have been offered by the AFD, while 30 more cars will be manufactured by the administration in collaboration with Hungary.
Alexandria Governor General Reda Farahat recently met Stephanie Lanfranchi, director of the AFD’s office in Cairo, and Nabil Haglawi, the French Consul-General in Alexandria, for detailed discussions about the development projects the AFD is financing in Alexandria. According to Ms Lanfranchi, the AFD signed a cooperation protocol with the Egyptian Ministry of Transport during the visit by French President François Hollande to Egypt last April. The project to improve the Ramleh tram was on top of the priority list of the Egyptian Ministry of Transport.
Alexandrians can now look forward to a tram back to its full glory.
30 November 2016