Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Today in History : The first Egyptian Railway

Historically and internationally we were the second country after the UK to have railways.
Today from 125 years ago, on the 16th of September 1856 Egypt inaugurated the first railway in Africa and in the East

Cairo : The Egyptian State Railway
An old Egyptian State Railways poster 
It was during Khedive Abbas I era. The Railway was from Alexandria to Cairo “209 km”. Khedive Abbas I whom we rarely remember signed an agreement with Engineer Robert Stephenson to build the railways for LE 56,000  in 1850.
In 1851, Stephenson had accepted to be Engineer-in-Chief to the Egyptian Railway between Alexandria and Cairo.

In 1855 Stephenson inaugurated the first two moveable bridge in Egypt at Kafr Zayat and Benha “I think this is the famous Bridge of Benha which Dalida sang about “before finalizing the huge project in 1856.

 I should say that this railway was not for the sake of Egypt on the contrary, Khedive Abbas I was not like his uncle or his grandfather. Already Abbas closed the schools and factories his grandfather opened and lowered the number of the Egyptian soldiers in the army, the same army that rocked the East and he fought with.

Abbas, I whose murder is a very classical X-File did it for the British.

Already the British in 1834 proposed the same idea to Mohamed Ali Pasha, they wanted simply to secure the way to India but as usual, Mohamed Ali Pasha who refused the idea of the Suez Canal for fear of foreign dominance refused the idea of railways altogether, the man knew what their plans were.

The first Khedival vehicle
The first Khedival vehicle 

Here is the design of the first Khedival vehicle from the 1856 train.
It started at Alexandria to Kafr El-Zayat in 1854 then it reached Cairo in 1856 then to Assuit in 1874 and to Luxor in 1898.

Another Egyptian State Railways poster
Another Egyptian State Railways poster 
The railway from Qena to Aswan was built by a private railway company called Qena Aswan Railway company. Already in 1884, there was a military railway from Aswan to Sudan which used in the military campaigns in Sudan only.

There were several private railways companies in Egypt in the 19th century like the Delta Light Railway Company and the Qena Aswan Railway Company.

I think by 1914 Egyptian State Railway Company owned most of the railways in the country.

To read more about the rich history of Egyptian Railways especially before the revolution, I recommend that you read this important Page “Railways in the Nile Valley”.

Before the inauguration of the Suez Canal, The Egyptian Railways was one of the main sources of income.
The Railways in the 20th Century crossed the country reaching Palestine.

The 1948 war put an end to these railways despite I read the news that there is a plan to have a railway from Alexandria to Libya.

You must bear in mind that in the past there were no highways nor cars like now.
Railways were the main means of transportation used by the Egyptians to get from a city to another. The desert roads were real desert roads and the agricultural roads were dangerous.

The Egyptian State Railways Company was a prestigious company in the past, my Turkish grandfather used to work in it as an inspector but he left it after a fight with a British Person who insulted the Egyptians in his presence.

My grandparents used to tell me how the first and second degrees in the Railways were so clean and fine, just check the Lux Salon in the first degree.
The first degree Lux Salon in Egyptian Railways in the past
The first degree Lux Salon in Egyptian Railways in the past

Also below here is a photo of the Royal Salon, already there were specialized Royal railway stations for the King and his family, I think there was one beside the Haramlek Palace at Alexandria. The Royal Vehicles are currently as far as I know in the railways' museum.

The Royal Salon
The Royal  Salon 
I know for sure that some things were stolen from them as part of the infamous Mohamed Ali Royal Jewels affair.
A stamp commemorating
the International congress
of Railways 
In 1933 the ESR inaugurated its museum about the history of railways in Egypt. It is beside Cairo Station and it was opened in 1933 for the occasion of the international railway conference.
The museum includes 700 models, documents, maps and statistical data showing the evolution of railways besides the Royal Vehicles.

It is a very important museum but unfortunately, the ministries of Culture and tourism do not recognize its importance, already there are some people who are interested in Railways and its history and will be interested in seeing our long history in the railways. You can see some of the documents online in the link I posted above.

Now the Egyptian State Railways became the Egyptian National Railways. The Railways company is just like Egypt now, great past but a troublesome present and a fearful future.

The accidents of the trains are happening frequently, the trains are so old with no technical maintenance. The government despite claiming to spend billions on the Railways does not bother to import better and modern trains.

Already the railways of Egypt can be used in tourism, I know there is a touristic train but I will dare and say without seeing it that it is not as it should be.

 In the Old-time the Egyptian State Railway used to promote tourism in Egypt with their trips across the country and their luxury service.

It is enough to see the posters of the Egyptian State Railways and how beautiful they were to understand that the people in that company did not need to have a tourism ministry to understand the golden opportunities they can use.
Spend winter in Egypt from 1907
Spend This Winter in Egypt Vintage Travel poster
by Egyptian State-Railways 
Les Pyramids
Les Pyramides 
by Egyptian State-Railways 
Le Nil au Soliel levant 1911
Another ESR vintage
travel poster 
I do not need to speak about the employees of the Railways especially those who work on trains, last year they had a strike demanding higher salaries.

It is not about the salaries, in my opinion, it is about the work environment, the medical care and the working hours not to mention the corruption in the company itself.

From time to time there is news that the government is thinking of privatising the Railways, some people say that the government neglects the railways' company so it can lose more and Privatisation will be the last solution.

I am against the privatisation of such important means of transportation despite I am not a communist nor a socialist Still I believe it is important that the State owns it, there are many opportunities the railways in Egypt can seize.

Egyptian Railways in popular culture 

The railways in Egypt were some sort of inspiration to Poets and Singers. There are many folk songs about the Railways especially about the Upper Egypt train, 

I think this is because of the long distance between Cairo and Upper Egypt. Also, there is a famous Children lullaby about the train which needs coal to go on, I remember it till now “يا و ابور يا مولع حط الفحم”

There were films about the railways and I won’t forget the famous “Cairo Station” film of late Youssef Chahine, I should say that before Cairo Station Joe directed a film starring Laila Murad called “The lady of the train” not to mention the famous song of Farid Al Atrash in Chahine’s “You are my love” {The Peasant Girl aka El-Falaha}. The poster on your right  hand is for a 1950s film starring Emad Hamdy and Samia Gamal called “The night train

Updated "15/11/2008": Here is a better photo I found for the first locomotive for the Khedive in Egypt, I could not resist myself for post it here.
The first locomotive in Egypt "EgypteDantan.com"
The first locomotive in Egypt "EgypteDantan.com"
Updated "6/12/2008": Here is a drawing for the Cairo station in Alexandria that goes back to 1858

Sources :


  1. When was the second one?

  2. Thank you Zenobia. This is a very interesting post about a matter that probably very few non-Egyptians know about.

    AAA Copywriter

  3. @anonymous in 1874 to Assuit

    @AAA Copywriter , you welcome dear ,also few Egyptians know about it,hopefully they will be more now :)

  4. You mentioned that your grandfather used to work for the state railway. I have been tracing my family tree and it turns out that my great grandfather worked for the Egyptian state railway in 1919, I am unsure how long he did this, but would like to find out, any suggestions?

    L Mansfield

  5. @L Mansfield,sorry for my late reply , yes my great grandfather, the grandfather of my grandma used to work there , I do not know how to get this information , in any democratic civilized country there should be records and people have the right and the access to get in to these records , but this is in a democratic country , we are not democratic country unfortunately :(
    still do you have any documents you would like to share with us from that time ??
    already 1919 there was one hell of revolution ,a real revolution against the British Forces and the railways were cut then

  6. Thank you for sharing this fantastic railway history and it is very interesting.

  7. You are mostly welcome Mrs.Cloud :)

  8. I came across your site looking for information about Egyptian Arabic History.
    Congrats for the topics you´ve been posting. I´ll include a link from my site.
    All the best,
    Jim Nolan

  9. @Mr.Nolan, thank you sire so much , this means so much to me :)

  10. Hi again,
    Regards to an earlier posting about my Great Grandfather working for the Egyptian State Railways...

    The only information that I have is from a marriage certificate dated 11/11/1918 and one year later from my Grandfathers birth certificate in 1919 lists the residence as Palais Koubbeh both times and his occupation. He lived in Cairo until 1939 so am eager to just find out more....Thanks for your reply! I'll just have to keep trying!

    L Mansfield

  11. Ref,The Railway Museum in Cairo.Its great and the Director is a delightful lady. I plan to re-visit next Feb 2010. Alan from Nottingham England.

  12. Dear Zeinobia ... I'm so happy to be here ... my great grandfather was the 1st. Director of Egyptian Railway from 1856 to 1870 ... he is a Britsh Officer came to Egypt about 1846 after retired from the British Army Service in India and change his name from HENRY COLLINGWOOD SEBY RICHARDS to ABDULLAH PASHA.
    and as Mr. ALAN say that there is a great lady Director of The Railway Museum in Cairo told me there a lot of visitor came from UK looking for there Famil .... and I left my E-mail to her .... so please how ever intrested to contact me will find my contact here and now I'm working in State of Qatar and I will be back to Egypt by 15 Feb. hope to see ALAN too
    Thanks again


  13. Dear Zeinobia,

    I have came across your post regarding the website relating to night life all over the world ( as u will see i abide by your rules, choosing my words to not offend anyone reviewing this post including your self).

    First of all i would like to draw your attention to the following points:

    1- Night life exists whether you like the idea or not and what consider taboo in some countries it is being tolerated in others.

    2-Like anything in life drinking, smoking if you would like to walk the line you can do that as long as you are not a minor, an adult and know the consequences of your decisions. Rules of Enagement ,the route and path you are following. Night life is not for everyone conservative, religious people refrain from same fine good for them yet there are still men and women contrary to your thinking enjoy intimate relationships even it was being offered on a financial basis.

    So you think the above is offensive and dominating women nevertheless many women like it and enjoy that life style to the utmost and will not gave it up whatsoever.

    3- There are rules in mongering scene first age of consent no abuse etc so as long as both parties agree on something i.e. mutual agreement then there is nothing wrong as long as the country rules allows that.
    4- For your information Egypt full of million of working girls( specially with the ecnomic crises and the very low standard of living) who do not have any awareness of STDs namely; HIV yes i would be pleased that protituation to be legalized at least there will be medical checkup like they used to do in Egypt before 1942 and still do in other countries.

    Moreover, informing these ignorant Egyptian women and men to practice safe sex. for the record 95% Egyptian do not practice safe sex even married men.
    5- If a man is single and above 21 then he is entitled to do what ever he wants that my preception so who are you to judge and forbid their acts as adults as long as their acts are not being prohibited by the laws of other countries.
    6- some men and women choose to settle down and make a family some dont so each has his own way.
    7-For the record if you have checked the Egyptian forum you will see that well experienced members advises foreigneres resident in Egypt to not enter in any relationship what soever with Egyptian working girls and encourage them to go to other countries such as Thailand, Brazilto avoid any unfortunate events since Egyptian Working girls are the wrose WGs in the world as far as sexual awareness, hygiene, mentality re concerned.
    8- For the record many working girls are very happy women and make a lot of money and guess what some of them are married with kids yes and there family know their profession so tell me how in the world they are being forced to that, financial circumstance hmm how about the working girl who is making not less than 10000.US$ a month. and some of them make that a night !! I bet she would have choose another profession but guess what she will not do that because she likes and loves her job.

    Enlighten your self sister. Peace!

  14. Hello, I enjoyed your article about the Egyptian Railways. I have written an article for an amateur railway station society a couple of years ago on the same subject. My article was based mainly on a report the Egyptian Railways produced in 1977. It's fascinating reading and writing about those times.

    My other interest is in British comics www.victorhornetcomics.co.uk and one of the artists Harry Farrugia was born in Egypt, 17th May 1919 in Port Said. (Died 1970, England). I'm trying to obtain a copy of his Birth Certificate. Is this possible and if so how do I go about it please?

    Kind regards Adrian Banfield, York.

  15. This is a very interesting site. I wonder if any of you can help me, I am trying to trace the journey of someone who visited Port Said in 1860, when the canal was just starting to be built.

    He started his journey from Alexandria by train to Cairo. I know that the railway from Alexandria to Cairo was built in 1856. Then my source says he travelled from Cairo to Samanoud by rail, but I think this must be wrong, because in 1860 there was no railway link between Tanta (60 miles North of Cairo) and Samanoud.

    So there is a 60 mile gap to cover here. Was there a main road between Cairo and Samanoud and could he have travelled on this by horse or mule?

    Then my source says he travelled from Samanoud to Mansura by mule. This indicates there was no railway beyond Samanoud. But I have also read that a small railway from Samanound to Mansura opened in 1859. Is that true or did it open after 1860 when he travelled? (Finally he travelled to Damietta by Nile boat and across Lake Menazelah in a local boat to Port Said.)

    Can anyone help with more information about these railways and when they opened?

  16. Good work Zeinobia, we lack information about the Egyptian Railway also I agree with Magdy comment we visited the museum found many useful information about the founders and the first director captain/ HENRY COLLINGWOOD SEBY RICHARDS my great grandfather, however I can't trace the family origins to find them so hopefully through your blog they might read my post and contact me through this mail: aldamarawy@gmail.com

  17. @Anonymous 02:14:00 AM. Prostitutes don't make $10,000 a night in Egypt or anywhere else.

  18. Elizabeth Bidder Diary published by Robert Stephenson Trust

    This is an amazing diary of an eighteen year old girl's adventure in 1858 when she sailed on Robert Stephenson's yacht 'Titania' from Southampton to Alexandria with fascinating descriptions of visits to ports of call on the voyage.

    She writes a vivid and lively story of these many interesting places in a fresh and uninhibited way which almost makes the reader feel that they are part of the scene.

    Of course, Robert Stephenson was famously known amongst his many achievements, as the designer of the acclaimed 'Rocket' locomotive in Newcastle upon Tyne which convincingly won the 'Rainhill Trials' in 1829 and which subsequently prompted and transformed the country and the world by the introduction of railways for the transport of goods and people.

    There were other intrepid passengers on the yacht an iron-hulled two masted schooner ninety one feet overall who bravely endured storms and illness during the sixteen week journey but who were rewarded by gaining a remarkable insight into ways of life which have long since disappeared.

    The reader can share their experiences with much pleasure as the pages turn and the adventure unfolds.


  19. My relative Edward Charles Thompson and his wife and son went to work on the railway from approx. 1857 to 1866. We understand he was an engineer. Did they recruit men from England? And how would they have travelled out to Egypt? Interestingly his family were from Lincolonshire where the railway was just being developed. While there he had 3 more children all born in DAMANHUR/DAMANHAN which is half way between Alexandria and Cairo. I am very keen to find out more about this. Can anyone help at all.

  20. Dear all, please be aware that the Egyptian Railway Museum has recently re-opened after a refurb lasting several years. I have not been but there are a couple of reviews on the net which suggest it is a good visit. Ramses Square, Cairo, Egypt
    Phone Number: +20 2 576 3793 (Davy)

  21. Hello from Ireland. What an interesting blog post! I am a historical fiction writer and I am setting my current book in Cairo in 1887. I am trying to find out what the name of the train station in Cario at that time was. Could anyone help? Many thanks.

  22. '' YA VABOR OULLI RAYEH ALA FEIN?''Tell me Locomotive where are you heading to?..a song, late Mr.MAESTRO MOHAMMED ABDEL WAHAB sang 1938 in a movie titled 'YAHYA AL HOB'=Long live Love?!.....VABOR a slang For train ..indeed VA'P'OUR RUNNED engines in English? as we don't have the LETTER ''P'' INSTEAD We use..''B''?!
    IN every 10 movies made circa 1930--1980..almost 7 HAD somehow TRAINS were apparent in them...being a part & essential means of transport between Alexandria & Cairo,,,,,as TRAMS were IN the BOTH CITIES??.... To mention?.. some Egyptian MOVIES as : HATTA NALTAQI=Til' we MEET AGAIN?..or somehow Arabic version of British Movie: BRIEF ENCOUNTER ??......DAI'MAN MA3'AAK=Always with YOU!....YOWM MEN OMRY=A day in my Life/...MAWED GHARAM=Love Date/.....JUST a humble reminder from yours truly!!...a..l..l..--b..o..a..r..d...?! From:Ishak sahag Barsoumian/London G.B(Mr.NostalgiA)


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