Office: (44) (0) 5603 676623  |  Independent Communications Consultancy based Westminster, London SW1
Office: (44) (0) 5603 676623  |  Independent Communications Consultancy based Westminster, London SW1

Helwan-les-Bains station, Egypt. By Albert G. Nymeyer 1953, kindly lent by Mr Ton PruissenThis is quite a long post but I think it’s important to reveal the contents of such an historic find, that I’ve just transcribed.

Mr Ton Pruissen in the Netherlands was kind enough to send a 30-minute cine film made in 1953 by Mr Albert G. Nymeyer. It’s an amazing discovery. Mr Nymeyer filmed extensive trackside footage around Cairo Central Station, showing steam and diesel locomotives, a cab ride in a diesel unit to Alexandria, a second cab-ride from Bab el-Louq to Helwan and yet a third from Cairo Central on the mainline south beyond Giza. The film is black and white without sound, but of excellent quality and oozes atmosphere. It’s an astonishing snap-shot of a time when steam was still in charge on Egyptian railways but the first diesels had arrived.

I’ve prepared a timed scene guide for Mr Pruissen and wish him well with his DVD projects.

Timed scene list for film by Albert G Nymeyer, property of Mr Ton Pruissen.
Transcribed by Mark Goldfinch 6th April 2013.

General points:

This important film depicts a number of scenes which, thanks to Mr Nymeyer’s unique access to trackside and cab locations, are unlikely to be replicated anywhere. They show a railway little changed from its installation in the late 19th century, but one which would change irrevocably within a decade, as nearly all Egyptian steam locomotives were withdrawn by 1963. Mr Nymeyer’s lens points through the windscreens of a series of new diesel cabs, on different lines over the course of a few days, and therefore gives the viewer a real driver’s eye view of railway installations, signals, stations, depots and, of course, the steam locomotives that still dominated train operations at this time. Mr Nymeyer has a particular interest in the then-new articulated diesel units recently introduced to Egyptian Railways.

The date of Mr Nymeyer’s visit, thought to be 1953, is interesting. The cloud and warm clothes all point to the winter months of January-March, but whereas the weather in Scene 1 (Cairo) seems cool, by Scene 3 it appears hotter. The shot of the locomotive decorated in foliage (Scene 6) indicates the Spring festival of Shimm el-Nessim around Easter time. This is less than a year after the 1952 Revolution and shows a railway little changed. People including drivers continue to wear the tarbush (fez). It is also before the trauma of the 1956 Suez War and the consequent move away from British suppliers and operational practice.

  1. Around Cairo Central Station (0:00 – 10:12)
  2. Cab ride from Cairo to Alexandria (10:15 – 16:40)
  3. Imbaba bridge (16:43 – 18:15)
  4. Cairo Bab el-Luq to Helwan suburban line (18:18 – 22:59)
  5. Afternoon cab ride from Cairo to Giza and Beni Suef (23:02 – 31:23)
  6. Southern Egypt (31:24 – 35:35)

Scene 1: Around Cairo Central Station

0 Station square outside Pont Limoun (on the right) and Cairo Central stations, traffic and trams.
0:23 Pont Limoun station
0:33 Interior of Cairo Central station: concourse and trainshed.
0:50 Elevated view looking north across station throat. Porters await the arrival of a steam-hauled train from the north.
1:03 Loco 77 (4.4.2/1926/Schneider) hauls passenger train out of platform
1.21 View of departing train, diesel shunter and signal box
1.30 Loco 656 (2.6.0/1935/North British) reverses north from station.
1:42 Unknown loco (2.6.4T) arrives from north with passenger train.
1:53 Unknown loco (2.6.4T) departs north with passenger train.
2:09 Ganz single diesel railcar arrives from north.
2:20 Inside a signal box, frame and bells.
2:34 Articulated unit arrives from north into trainshed.
2:58 Articulated unit departs north from trainshed.
3:29 Diesel 3001 (1948/English Electric) arrives light engine.
3:38 Diesel shunters including 4207 (1951/Henschel)
3:50 Unknown loco (2.6.0) reverses into station.
3:57 Diesel shunter
4:06 Loco 303 (4.6.0/1948/North British) hauls passenger train from north
4:32 Diesel 3001 (1948/English Electric) departs with passenger train.
5:02 Diesel 3006 (1948/English Electric) arrives with passenger train.
5:22 Diesel 3006 (1948/English Electric) heads north light engine.
5:35 Loco 456 (4.6.0/1950/Societe Alsacienne) arrives with passenger train.
5:55 Near steam locomotive sheds north of Cairo Central.
6:08 Loco 414 (4.6.0/1950/North British) departs with passenger train.
6:30 Carriages (Baume & Marpent, Belgium).
7:00 2 locomotives (including 328 4.6.0/1949/North British) depart from station.
7:31 Loco 568 (2.6.0/1928/North British) arrives with passenger train.
7.48 Loco 416 (4.6.0/1950/North British) overtakes Loco 568 (2.6.0/1928/NB)
7:55 Articulated unit 6106 arrives from south, passes under Limoun Bridge.
8:34 Pigeons.
8:37 Platforms, staff and passengers.
8:50 Unknown loco starts passenger train south under Limoun Bridge beside lower quadrant (LQ) starter signal.
9:18 From Limoun Bridge, loco 454 (4.6.0/1950/Societe Alsacienne) starts passenger train south. Hawkers board carriages in sequence.
10:10 Articulated unit receives attention in trainshed.

Scene 2: Cab ride from Cairo to Alexandria.

10:15 Articulated unit departs north from trainshed, past loco sheds and other installations onto double track (running on left).
10:49 Passes southbound 603 (2.6.0/1928/Armstrong Whitworth) tender-first on passenger train.
10:54 Passes southbound 606(?) (2.6.0/1931/Borsig) on passenger train.
11:09 Passes west and east junctions at Qalyub station then 2 southbound freights.
11:48 Passes Benha station with 261 (4.4.0/1937/North British) in southbound platform, then passenger train in the Minuf/Zifta bay platform (left side) then junction for Zaqaziq (bears right).
12:04 Benha shed with 31 (4.4.2/1925/North British) then 5?5 (2.6.0/1920s) waiting to head north with freight train.
12:10 Lower quadrant home and distant signals before Benha Nile bridge.
12:21 Signal gantry protecting (left to right) branch to Minuf, mainline, branch to Zifta.
12:34 Unknown station, minaret, pigeon stuck in windscreen grille.
12:43 Passes 555 (2.6.0/1928/North British) on southbound freight.
13:21 Southern approaches to Tanta, hump-shunting yard west (left), loco sheds east (right), plus steam crane.
13:34 Cab controls and driver.
13:36 Tanta station approaches, complex junctions and signals
13:55 Steam railcar in Minuf platform at Tanta.
14:04 Depart Tanta platform loop; signalbox.
14:07 Driver at controls wearing a tarbush (fez).
14:22 Steward carries tea.
14:32 Kafr el-Zayat station with steam railcar in Minuf bay to left.
14:45 Nile bridge and approaches to Tewfiqiya station, countryside and canals.
15:22 Passes unknown steam loco (4.6.0) on southbound passenger train.
15:37 Approaches to Damanhour station, with 2.6.0T stabled left.
15:49 Interior of articulated unit with girls playing dominoes; stewards.
16:08 Approaches to Alexandria Misr terminal passing 4.6.0 backing into the station.
16:28 Alexandria Misr trainshed and concourse (to 16:40).

Scene 3: Imbaba Bridge

16:43 Imbaba Nile bridge viewed from Zamalik island.
16:57 Articulated unit crosses bridge from Imbaba to Cairo.
17:17 Steam passenger train heads across bridge towards Imbaba.
17:51 Electric trolleybus 5001 (destination: Imbaba).

Scene 4: Cairo Bab el-Louq to Helwan suburban line

18:18 Exterior of Cairo Bab el-Louq station and street scene.
18:25 Bab el-Louq south throat and level crossing as 1311 (2.6.4T/1929/Breda) departs.
18:39 Articulated unit arrives in platform.
18:46 Loco 1239 (2.6.2T/1929/North British) reverses towards carriages.
18:57 Articulated unit departs from Bab el-Louq.
19:19 In cab, travelling through city streets under upper quadrant signals. Passes station (possibly Sayida Zaynab) and carriage yard.
20:46 Into countryside past irrigated fields.
20:49 Unknown station, with tank engine moving light northbound.
21:21 Arrives pleasant station with trees (possibly Maadi), as northbound steam train arrives, followed by views over Nile towards pyramids and then into desert.
21:34 In desert passes northbound steam locomotive with passenger train.
22:16 Arrives at Helwan (les-Bains/Hammamat) station.
22:32 Articulated unit arrives from north into Helwan station (filmed from footbridge). Tank engine on middle road in steam. To 22:59.

Scene 5: Afternoon cab ride from Cairo to Giza and Beni Suef

23:02 Station square outside Pont Limoun (on the right) and Cairo Central stations, traffic and trams.
23:20 Articulated unit 6106H arrives at Cairo Central under Limoun Bridge.
23:44 Cab ride begins as 6106H departs under Limoun Bridge past steam locomotives.
24:08 Passes Farz locomotive sheds.
24:18 Crosses Imbaba bridge with view south to Zamalik and north.
24:48 Passes Imbaba station before veering south on 3-track section (right-hand track is for Etay el-Barud). This section is through open countryside with views to the Giza pyramids (25:06), but this whole area and more is now built over in urban sprawl.
25:51 Stops at Giza station at 13km.
26:10 Passes station (either Hawamdiya or Badrasheen).
26:20 Rural scenes of fields, canals, bus, palm groves, pyramids (Dahshur not Giza).
27:20 Passes el-Ayat station and northbound steam passenger train, then fields.
27:52 Passes northbound steam-hauled freight train (mostly cotton bales).
28:45 Approach to Wasta station, junction for Fayoum. Passes northbound passenger train (possibly from Fayoum branch) hauled by a 2.6.0T running bunker first, then signals, then the Fayoum branch diverges right.
29:07 Ashment Bridge and countryside.
29:21 Northbound steam passenger train in countryside.
29:46 Train stops at Beni Suef station with locomotives stabled on sidings.
30:10 Sun starts to set in the west over canals and palm trees.
30:19 Branch to el-Lahun diverges to the right (west), then train continues south under a succession of lower quadrant signals: distant, home, wayside station, starter, outer home.
31:01 Passes northbound steam-hauled passenger train.
31:22 Arrives at (Mughagha) station after dusk.

Scene 6: Southern Egypt

31:24 Misty early morning from rear carriage of steam-hauled passenger train as it rounds a left-hand curve.
31:32 Naga Hammadi Nile bridge followed by long section of countryside, cliffs, River Nile and felucca boats, pastoral rural scenes. This is all on the (then) single-track section line south of Qena.
34:32 Wagons-Lit carriages in a platform. The location is uncertain but possibly Aswan. Passengers including army officers stroll on the platform.
34:40 Loco 912 (2.6.0/1938/North British) reverses onto the Wagons-Lit rake before coupling and departing south. The locomotive is decorated with foliage, a tradition that is often followed at the Spring festival of Shimm el-Nessim. The Wagons-Lit rake could be the ‘Star of Egypt’ service departing towards Wadi Halfa. To 35:35.


From April to November 2013 I kept a news blog about Egyptian Railways, where I translated and summarised articles from the Egyptian (Arabic) press and posted them in English. This was through the period of the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood government, after which train services were suspended for many weeks. This is one of a small number of the 150 blog posts I wrote during that time.

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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