Country Listing

Egypt Table of Contents




Figure 5. Transportation System, 1990


Cairo metro train, the first underground system in the Middle East and in Africa
Courtesy Embassy of Egypt, Washington

Egypt's road and rail network was developed primarily to transport population and was most extensive in the densely populated areas near the Nile River (Nahr an Nil) and in the Nile Delta. Areas along the Mediterranean coast were generally served by a few paved roads or rail lines, but large areas of the Western Desert, Sinai Peninsula (Sinai), and the mountains in the east were inaccessible except by air (see fig. 5). The Nile and a system of canals in the Delta were the traditional means of transporting goods, although freight was increasingly carried by truck or rail. The entire system was unable to keep up with rapid population growth, particularly in the large urban areas, and expansion and modernization of all forms of transportation were under way.

In early 1990, Egypt had more than 49,000 kilometers of roads, of which about 15,000 kilometers were paved, 2,500 kilometers were gravel, and the remaining 31,500 kilometers were earthen. The highway system was concentrated in the Nile Valley north of Aswan and throughout the Delta; paved roads also extended along the Mediterranean coast from the Libyan border in the west to the border with Israel. In the east, a surfaced road ran south from Suez along the Red Sea, and another connected areas along the southern coast of Sinai from Suez to the Israeli town of Elat. A well maintained route circled through several western oases and tied into the main Nile corridor of highways at Cairo in the north and Asyut in the south. Large areas of the Western Desert, the mountainous areas near the Red Sea, and the interior of the Sinai Peninsula remained without any permanent-surface roads, however.

The state-owned Egyptian Railways had more than 4,800 kilometers of track running through the populated areas of the Nile Valley and the coastal regions. Most of the track was 1.435-meter standard gauge, although 347 kilometers were 0.750-meter narrow gauge. Portions of the main route connecting Luxor with Cairo and Alexandria were double tracked and a commuter line linking Cairo with the suburb of Hulwan was electrified. Built primarily to transport people, the passenger service along the Nile was heavily used.

Less heavily traveled routes provided connections to outlying areas. A coastal route west from Alexandria to the Libyan border was being upgraded to allow for increased passenger travel. Tracks along the Mediterranean coast of Sinai, destroyed during the June 1967 War, had been repaired, and service was restored between Al Qantarah on the Suez Canal and the Israeli railroad system in the Gaza Strip. New ferry boats allowed passengers at Aswan, the southern terminus of the Egyptian Railways, to connect with the Sudanese system. A new line intended to export phosphates was under construction from Al Kharijah in the Western Desert to the port of Bur Safajah.

The southern leg of the forty-two-kilometer Cairo Metro, the first subway system in Africa or the Middle East, opened in 1987. This line, built with the cooperation of France, linked Hulwan in the south with three main downtown stations, named Sadat, Nasser, and Mubarak. In 1989 the northeast line opened, extending from downtown to the suburbs. The city planned to build an east-west route across the Nile to Giza (Al Jizah). The government hoped that the subway construction would relieve the extremely jammed streets, buses, streetcars, and trains.

Although Egypt had sixty-six airfields with paved runways, only the airports at Cairo and Alexandria handled international traffic. EgyptAir, the principal government airline, maintained an extensive international network and had domestic flights from Cairo and Alexandria to Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel (Abu Sunbul), and Al Ghardaqah on the Red Sea. In 1983 EgyptAir carried 1.6 million passengers. A smaller, state-owned airline, Air Sinai, provided service from Cairo to points in the Sinai Peninsula. Zas Passenger Service, the newest airline and the only one that was privately owned, had daily flights from Cairo to Aswan, Luxor, Al Ghardaqah, and points in Sinai.

Alexandria was Egypt's principal port and in the early 1990s was capable of handling 13 million metric tons of cargo yearly. Egypt's two other main ports, Port Said (Bur Said) and Suez, reopened in 1975, after an eight-year hiatus following the June 1967 War. Realizing the importance of shipping to the economy, the government embarked on an ambitious plan in the late 1980s to build new ports and increase capacity at existing facilities, including constructing a facility capable of handling up to 20 million metric tons of cargo just west of Alexandria. Bur Safajah on the Red Sea was being developed to handle phosphate exports, and the first stage of a new port at the mouth of the Nile's eastern Damietta (Damyat) tributary opened in 1986.

Egypt had about 3,500 kilometers of inland waterways. The Nile constituted about half of this system, and the rest was canals. Several canals in the Delta accommodated ocean-going vessels, and a canal from the Nile just north of Cairo to the Suez Canal at Ismailia (Al Ismailiyah) permitted ships to pass from the Nile to the Red Sea without entering the Mediterranean Sea. Extensive boat and ferry service on Lake Nasser moved cargo and passengers between Aswan and Sudan.

The Suez Canal was Egypt's most important waterway and one of the world's strategic links, being the shortest maritime route between Europe and the Middle East, South Asia, and the Orient. Serious proposals for a canal between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea had been made as early as the fifteenth century by the Venetians, and Napoleon ordered the first survey of the region to assess a canal's feasibility in 1799. After several subsequent studies in the early nineteenth century, construction began in 1859. After ten years of construction and numerous unforeseen difficulties, the canal finally opened in 1869 (see Suez Canal , this ch.).

The canal extends 160 kilometers from Port Said on the Mediterranean to a point just south of Suez on the Red Sea. It can handle ships with up to sixteen meters draught; transit times through the length of the canal averaged fifteen hours. Passing occurs in convoys with large passing bays every twenty-five kilometers to accommodate traffic from opposite directions. Traffic patterns have changed considerably over the last century, reflecting different global priorities: passenger transit has dropped while the movement of goods, especially petroleum, has increased dramatically. It was estimated that before the 1967 ArabIsraeli War, 15 percent of the world's total sea traffic passed through the canal.

Data as of December 1990

Country Listing

Egypt Table of Contents