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Network overhaul
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 07 - 03 - 2019

On Sunday, during a ceremony to commemorate Martyr's Day, the head of the Armed Forces Engineering Authority Kamel Al-Wazir was promoted from major general to lieutenant general. The following day he was sworn in as minister of transport, succeeding Hisham Arafat who resigned in the aftermath of a train crash and fire at Cairo's central train station which killed 22 people.
Al-Wazir has a long record of achievement since becoming head of the army's Engineering Authority in 2015. During the past four years he has steered the development of many of Egypt's largest infrastructure projects. He has been responsible for new road networks, the New Suez Canal project, the Gabal Al-Galala development project and hundreds of developments in the New Administrative Capital and east of the Suez Canal.
In announcing his decision to appoint Al-Wazir, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said he was presenting the Ministry of Transport with “one of the best officers in the army”.
Noting that the government was currently carrying out LE4 trillion worth of mega projects due to be completed by 30 June 2020, Al-Sisi said he anticipated that over the next 13 months Al-Wazir “will introduce fundamental changes in the Ministry of Transport”.
Al-Wazir, whose appointment was approved by parliament on Monday, swore to do everything in his power to serve Egypt and promised to turn the Egyptian Railway Authority into a pioneering agency and a model for other government bodies to emulate.
On investment in the railway, Al-Sisi said that steps were being taken to develop the system costing billions of pounds. He drew a comparison with the dilapidated electricity grid that had cost LE600 billion to overhaul, pointing out that to “introduce electronic signals and automatic controls requires very large sums of money”. He stressed that 102 train stations had already been upgraded and work is in progress on 32 more, and that more than 20 bridges and overpasses have been constructed to eliminate dangerous railroad crossings. The government has also upgraded 81 engines and signed deals to purchase 1,300 passenger carriages, 300 freight cars, 200 engines, as well as six completely air-conditioned trains.
“We are building on what has been accomplished. We want to extend the railroad to Sudan and Ethiopia in the framework of an Egyptian project during this year when Egypt chairs the African Union. We must have a good infrastructure for that,” he said.
The day after parliament confirmed his appointment Al-Wazir bid farewell to fellow officers and soldiers in the Engineering Authority and, dressed in civilian clothes, was sworn in as the new minister of transport. During the official handover at the ministry he expressed his gratitude to his predecessor Arafat before holding a press conference during which he announced regulations would be changed to ensure hard work in the ministry and its subsidiary organisations was rewarded, and negligence met with swift punishment under the law.
He said that he was looking forward to benefiting from the expertise of all staff and that he had no intention of dismissing anyone as long as they were seriously committed to their work and enjoyed the trust of the Egyptian people.
Al-Wazir, who managed some 3,000 companies during his term as head of the Armed Forces Engineering Authority and succeeded in making them profitable, said he saw no reason why the Transport Ministry should lose money.
The new minister is likely to receive support from the Armed Forces, which he asked for when accepting his appointment as minister. President Al-Sisi stressed the need for this support and Defence Minister General Mohamed Zaki confirmed that it would be forthcoming. Zaki promised the collaboration of the Ministry of War Production, a partner in concluding many of the contracts and protocols that will modernise the railway system.
Al-Wazir faces major challenges, including ending the string of disastrous train accidents that led many of his predecessors to resign. Then there is the issue of funding. Just LE200 billion has been earmarked for modernising the system over the next 12 years.
Al-Wazir will have his work cut out following through on contracts already agreed and ensuring the completion of the purchase and delivery of the 1,300 passenger cars and 100 engines ordered from General Electric. In addition, half the authorities' existing engines need upgrading. An estimated 400 or the Railway Authority's 800 locomotives are out of service and 982 out of 1,332 railway crossings need to be automated.
Plans to expand the network include the high-speed train project from Alamein-Ain Sokhna, the electric rail linking New Cairo and 10 Ramadan with the New Administrative Capital and, of course, completion of the Cairo metro system.

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