Egypt looks to build rail links between Mediterranean and Red Sea ports

The new railroad would provide an alternate route between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea to the Suez Canal.
Sunday 20/05/2018
People wait to board a train at Al Shohadaa “Martyrs” metro station in Cairo. (Reuters)
Better links. People wait to board a train at Al Shohadaa “Martyrs” metro station in Cairo. (Reuters)

CAIRO - Egyptian officials said they plan to construct a railroad line connecting the Red Sea with the Mediterranean via a land bridge.

The project aims to speed up the movement of people and goods between the two seas to create greater links between upper and lower Egypt, as well as build rail links between Egypt and Jordan.

The first phase of the line is to connect the Port of Alexandria in northern Egypt with the Port of Damietta, more than 200km to the east. The second phase would stretch more than 500km from the Port of Damietta to the Port of Nuweiba, a coastal town in the eastern part of the Sinai Peninsula. That would effectively link Egypt’s Mediterranean region with the Red Sea region.

A major logistics zone is to be established close to the Port of Nuweiba. An inland terminal for freight distribution is also planned.

“This is a huge project that will take the transport of goods and people in our country many steps forward,” said Mohamed Ezz, Egyptian Ministry of Transport spokesman. “This will be the first time the Red Sea and the Mediterranean will be connected via a means of land transport.”

The Ministry of Transport said a financial and technical assessment of the project was expected to be ready within four months. Construction of the new railroad is estimated to cost around $3.1 billion, which Egypt will find difficult to bear while implementing economic reforms.

Transport Minister Hasham Arafat on April 27 said the ministry would invite international consortiums to submit bids to construct the new line in July.

The new railroad would provide an alternate route between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea to the Suez Canal. Sinai will be at the centre of the project, which will link the Mediterranean ports of Alexandria and Damietta to the Port of Nuweiba in the Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt said the railroad would be used in the transport of materials necessary for the rebuilding of Iraq and Syria.

Observers said the project could be in response to an Israeli plan to circumvent the Suez Canal with a rail freight link between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. The Israeli plan, which was unveiled in February 2014, envisages a rail line of approximately 300km from the Israeli Port of Eilat on the Red Sea to the Port of Ashdod on the Mediterranean.

The “Red-Med” project was estimated to cost about $2 billion. The plan to construct Red-Med was made at a time of high tension in Sinai, where terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS) fired on a Chinese container ship in the canal.

In April 2017, Israel said it would construct a “Tracks for Peace” railway line to give Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq access to the Mediterranean. That link, Tel Aviv said, would extend from the Port of Haifa on the Mediterranean to Jordan, into Saudi Arabia and to the Arab Gulf.

Israeli officials said the project would offer an alternative route to the Suez Canal and the Bab el Mandeb Strait, amid concerns over Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz.

However, Cairo’s planned train link between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea could circumvent Israeli plans.

“By all means, the Egyptian project will substitute the Israeli projects and provide the necessary speed connection between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean,” said Nourhan al-Sheikh, a professor of international relations at Cairo University. “The same link can be used to give our brothers in the Gulf access to the Mediterranean in case Iran closes off the Strait of Hormuz as it threatens every now and then.”

Egypt has tried to enhance the Suez Canal by digging a parallel channel, reducing transit time and easing crowded conditions while allowing giant container ships and vessels to use the canal.

The planned train link would move transportation between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean many steps further. Apart from cutting down transportation time, the new link could serve as the nucleus of an aspiring train connection between North Africa and the Arab Peninsula, experts said.

“The new project will give Egypt an advanced position on the international shipping map,” said maritime transport expert Ahmed al-Shami. “It integrates the railways into the port business, which will ease transport from the ports to other places.”

“The new train link will cause goods to travel the distance between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean in just 3 hours,” Ezz said. “Its construction amounts to the digging of a new Suez Canal, which is a very big thing to do.”