In many parts of the world the monorail, or elevated railway system, is thought of as a modern solution to traffic problems in overcrowded cities. Since it moves on suspended rails and therefore does not interfere with the flow of traffic on the roads, many countries have adopted this transport system to ease traffic congestion.
Several weeks ago Mustafa Madbouli who was Minister of Housing, Utilities and Urban development in the cabinet of Ibrahim Mahlab which resigned September 2015, announced the selection of an Egyptian-Canadian consortium to erect a monorail project that would link the Cairo satellite towns of 6 October and Sheikh Zayed to Cairo and Giza. The consortium consists of Bombardier Inc., a leading Canadian aerospace and transport company, and Egyptian giants Orascom Construction Industries and Arab Contractors.
The USD1.5 billion monorail project would, according to Dr Madbouli, be funded by a 14-year loan to be paid back by the New Urban Communities Authority (NUCA). Construction is set to begin in January 2016 and will last for about 30 months, ending by mid-2018.
The project’s technical and financial proposal presented by the Egyptian-Canadian consortium has already been approved. Bombardier Transportation, the rail division of Bombardier Inc., has executed similar projects in 18 countries including the United States, Spain, Germany, Canada, Italy, Portugal, South Korea and the United Kingdom. It is currently installing a fully automated monorail system in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The monorail will link the satellite towns of 6 October and Sheikh Zayed in the western outskirts of Giza governorate to Cairo and Giza cities. The first phase of the project is 27 kilometres long and comprises 12 stations. It will start at the Cairo Alexandria Desert Road and pass through Sheikh Zayed, Juhayna Square, and Media Production City to the beginning of the Oases road. The second phase is 25 kilometres long and will extend as far as al-Warraq, which is where the fourth line of the Cairo underground currently under construction is planned to end.
The monorail will thus stretch more than 52 kilometres, and will serve the residential areas of 6 October and Sheikh Zayed as well as the industrial zone in 6 October. It will be one of the most up-to-date traffic congestion solutions and will function according to a fully automated electrical system providing the highest level of comfort for passengers. The monorail is known worldwide to be an environment friendly means of transport, with a low noise level, low energy consumption and most importantly, no harmful emissions.
Installing a monorail in Egypt is a project of utmost importance, says Saad Eddin Ashmawi, expert on transport economics. “Building a monorail system,” Dr Ashmawi says, “is much less expensive than building an underground tunnel which, on average, costs four times as much. It takes up less space and its operation is generally cost-effective. It does no substantial damage to the natural landscape, adapts well to streets such as Cairo’s, and serves to increase the city’s traffic flow.”
A risk, or well-planned?
“Before the project gets the final go-ahead it must undergo thorough feasibility studies by transport specialists to determine its cost effectiveness,” Dr Ashmawi says. “These studies must investigate issues such as the population density of the neighbourhoods the monorail will serve and the integration of the new system in the already existing public transport network, especially the underground network.”
Dr Ashmawi believes that assigning the project to the Ministry of Housing rather than the Ministry of Transport is a risky decision and a big mistake. He concedes, however, that the decision may have been made because the monorail will be serving new towns which are under the control of the Ministry of Housing’s NUCA. He admits that the public transport system in Egypt is already rife with flaws. “I had presented a suggestion to the President to establish an independent transport authority for Greater Cairo which would be the one and only apparatus in charge of the city’s transport network. Currently, there are 16 apparatuses which supervise and issue regulations related to the transport system in Cairo. It is imperative to establish one integrated transport system using the expertise of specialists in this field. It is no secret that all the transport problems in Egypt are mainly due to mismanagement,” Dr Ashmawi says.
Ahmed Hamed, chairman of the Egyptian National Railways Authority (ENR), told the media that the authority had not been informed about the monorail project announced by the Ministry of Housing. The ENR has no information whatsoever regarding the route of the monorail or its execution schedule, Mr Hamed says. When the project is presented to the ENR, however, it will undergo a meticulous study to ensure that it does not interfere with already existing transport projects.
Banking expert Ahmed Selim told Watani that building a monorail system in Egypt was another national mega project which was expected to be highly profitable. It was therefore important that a bank coalition participates in funding the much-needed project which would help in reducing Egypt’s traffic problem, he says. Because the demand on transport is very high, Mr Selim suggests setting a commercial price for monorail tickets in such a way that would yield the highest profit during the first five to ten years, after which ticket prices could be reduced.
For now, it is clear that the transport, urban communities, and economic experts agree that a monorail would be a godsend to Greater Cairo’s traffic. It is not clear, however, whether or not the project would get the final go-ahead. Or would it be buried, like many others, in the notorious red tape and conflicts that riddle Egypt’s administrative apparatus?
16 September 2015