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Egypt’s railway revolution

Thales is working in partnership with Egyptian National Railways (ENR) and the National Authority for Tunnels (NAT) on major upgrades of Egypt’s main line railway and metro networks. Sherif Barakat, CEO of Thales in Egypt, and Alessio Bencivenni, Director of Thales Ground Transportation Systems in Egypt, explain how digital technology is helping to deliver safe, fast and reliable rail journeys.

Can you tell us about the work Thales is doing in rail transportation in Egypt?


Thales has a long heritage in Egypt. In terms of rail business, we have worked with NAT on the Cairo Metro right from the beginning 35 years ago and we have supported ENR in its nationwide main line railway modernisation programme since 2013. Our mission is to make main line railway and metro journeys safe, attractive and reliable. We achieve this with digital technologies in three principal areas: signalling, telecoms and ticketing. 

What are the wider benefits of Egypt’s rail modernisation?

Journeys by rail are greener and less carbon intensive than those by road. This is a key consideration in the battle to drive down emissions. In parallel with this, shifting journeys from road to rail is instrumental in reducing congestion. Finding ways to reduce car dependency is a priority for Egypt, particularly in the Greater Cairo metropolitan area, which is home to more than 22 million Egyptians. 

Fast, safe and reliable public transport is one of the most effective ways to boost mobility and achieve environmental objectives. Moreover, it fully aligns with Egypt’s Vision 2030 goals for sustainable economic and social development. At Thales we are very proud to support these goals.

What metro projects are you working on?

For the past 35 years, Thales has been a trusted partner of the Greater Cairo Metro, one of the world’s busiest urban rail systems. Our solutions provide critical functionality in several key areas on lines 1, 2, 3 and 4. 
These include integrated communications and supervision solutions, which act as the central nervous system of the metro network and ensure safe and appealing journeys. From upgrading ticketing systems allowing passengers to use smart cards to providing the multimodal and multi-operator ticketing approach, Thales participates in making journeys attractive and easy for passengers and operators. Importantly, all metro lines are being fortified with cutting-edge cybersecurity measures, aligning with the latest international standards.

Can you tell us more about Thales’ projects with Egyptian National Railways? 

ENR’s main line modernisation programme is one of the biggest in the world and we are proud to be part of it. Thales role is to provide a brand new cybersecured signalling system: a game changer that includes new trackside signals – the traffic lights of the railway – as well as modern electronic interlocking systems. Interlocking is the digital “brain” of the railway and it ensures that trains are safely and correctly routed. We are also modernising level crossings and providing field equipment.

Modern signalling improves safety by minimising the risk of human error. In addition, it makes it possible for ENR to increase capacity – in other words, to run more trains. Trains are able to run at up to 160kmh on the lines we are resignalling too – an increase of more than 30%. Together, these factors make the railway more attractive, efficient and competitive. Reliable railways help to stimulate economic growth, including tourism: connecting Alexandria and Cairo to Aswan in the south with a faster, safer line will boost tourist traffic to the monuments area in Luxor and Aswan.

Where is Thales deploying new main line signalling?

Thales is carrying out extensive renewals and upgrades that will revolutionise passenger and freight transport across Egypt – a huge achievement. Our newest contract is for the modernisation of the Cairo-Giza-Beni Suef main line – a 125km double-track route that follows the Nile valley south of Cairo. We are leading a consortium with Orascom Construction for this project.

In the north of the country, we have already successfully upgraded signalling on both the Cairo-Alexandria and Cairo-Benha main lines. This was a huge project covering more than 200km of lines, including 19 stations and a total of 80 level crossings. 

Further south, we are upgrading the line between Asyut and Nag Hammadi. This section of line stretches for 125km and includes 17 stations. Modernisation of the full corridor, from Alexandria to Aswan, will be completed in the coming years.

Are Egyptian employees involved in the projects you are delivering?

Yes. Local talent is absolutely critical for the success of our projects. Close to 500 Egyptian technicians and engineers work for Thales. They are doing the installation, commissioning and upgrading of the lines. 

New technology requires a completely new set of skills. Thales provides its workforce with specialised training both in Egypt and abroad (Spain, Canada, Italy, France) as well as our customer to support both the operation and long-term maintenance of the new signalling system. Training is a big part of the localisation of expertise that we have put in place over the past 10 years.

Beyond transportation, what role does Thales play in Egypt?

Thales has been present in Egypt since 1973, providing customers with capabilities in Defence, Transportation, Aerospace, Space, Digital Identity and Security. 
As a long-term partner, Thales has been supporting industrial development and innovation in the Arab Republic of Egypt, in line with Egypt Vision 2030. Over the last few years, the Group has extended its footprint in new areas such as security for critical infrastructure and space-related projects. 
Thales is keen to develop local talent in Egypt, with the objective of further supporting innovation, digital transformation, industrialisation and local partnerships by nurturing local talent and fostering diversity, in line with the Country’s strategy.