Sad fate of the Sinai line

 In Archive, Egypt

The remnants of the Ismailiya - Bir el-Abd line in north Sinai. Photo: Ala el-Qamhawi from Al-Masry Al-Youm.

In response to a question from a reader about the Suez Canal bridge, I unearthed 2 recent reports here and here from el-Masry el-Youm, both dated 24th October 2013 and by Izzat Maghazi. They relate the sad fate of the Ismailiya-Rafah (Cairo-Jersusalem) line through its destruction and rebuilding more than once during the 20th century as a result of wars. One of the articles describes the 13-year-old Ferdan Bridge as a ‘steel corpse’.

The articles are both quite long and full of detail, including interviews with eye witnesses and local residents who complain of lack of investment in north Sinai, and recall instances of track theft from the line’s last incarnation from 1999 until 2005 when it was abandoned. Work on rebuilding the line began in what – in hindsight – seems a short halcyon period of optimism and co-operation in the Middle East, about 1995-2003. It became impossible to sustain when negotiations to continue the line through Gaza and Israel both foundered, and the opportunity vanished. From my research I’ve put together what I hope is a useful timeline of the Sinai line’s most recent history.

•1997: Work started on Stage 1 of the Ismailiya – Rafah line, extending to Bir el-Abd.

•1998: 3 short stages completed: Qantara East – Galbana / Baluza – Ramana / Nagila – Bir el-Abd.

•1999: Former President Mubarak officially opened Stage 1 of the railway line: 35 kms between Qantara East and Bir el-Abd. The project cost EGP 320 million. Then Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzuri announced work was to start on Stage 2 at a cost of EGP 800 million from Bir el-Abd to Rafah.

•Just 3 weeks after the opening, instances of looting of the railway track had already started, according to a witness quoted in a report published in el-Wafd newspaper on 11th February 2012.

•The Ferdan bridge seems to have operated from its official opening in 2001 until about 2005 when the state of the railway in Sinai (because of track thefts) prevented trains from running. The bridge remained open for cars and lorries for a short time afterwards, and was then shut completely and put under control of the armed forces.

•13th December 2009. A Wafd MP in Parliament questioned the Transport Minister about the looting of the railway line. He accused the Transport Ministry and Interior Ministry of neglect of duty in protecting the railway line.

•February 2012. Former Transport Minister Galal Said announced that over 70% of the track and other railway installations had been looted. He said the ministry was trying to allocate EGP 200 million for repairs to revive the line.

•According to the latest report (24/10/2013), the bridge remains shut to all traffic.

Any excuse to show this amazing ticket, a military 3rd class single Cairo-Jerusalem (Courtesy: Imperial War Museum, London) No chance of a journey like this in the near future.

If you have any stories about railways or the Middle East in general that you would like help to write or publish, please get in touch.

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There hasn't been much use for the modern equivalent of tickets like this since 14th AugustA 3rd class single ticket from el-Shuhuda to Etay el-Barud (via Dinshwai) dated 26th January 1995. (Author)