Tourists visiting Egypt will have to pay for train tickets in foreign currencies from January, according to the country’s transport minister.
During a televised phone-in to a popular talk show, Kamel Al-Wazir said there has been an increase in demand for train tickets among tourists in the past few weeks, with more than 1,000 paying in a foreign currency for the trips.
Foreign currency procured by the transport ministry will be used to pay back loans taken out by the ministry to purchase new trains for Egypt’s railway authority, Al-Wazir said.
The main aim of the new decision is to reduce the financial burden on Egypt’s central bank, which has seen its foreign reserves dwindle to record lows this year amid rising demand for dollars used to clear shipments of goods held up at the nation’s ports.
The minister said he was optimistic that it would be a successful channel for collecting foreign currency.
On Saturday, Al-Wazir joined the first trip from Cairo to Alexandria made by the national railway authority’s new luxury Talgo trains, which, according to the transport ministry, are the best in the country.
Two of seven Talgo trains have arrived in Egypt, the manufacturer said, adding that it signed a contract with Egypt's transport ministry worth €280 million ($298 million), which includes supplying the seven trains in addition to offering 15 years of maintenance services.
The trains are the fastest in Egypt’s fleet, with a maximum speed of 160kph. They are equipped with an advanced shock absorption mechanism that will make the journey more comfortable for passengers, Al-Wazir said.
Tickets for the new train, which only includes first and second-class cars, will cost 200 Egyptian pounds ($8) for first-class tickets and 150 ($6) for second-class.
The ministry said it intends to overhaul the country’s railways by 2024 so they are “entirely brand new”.
Egypt’s railways have been in severe disrepair for years with fatal accidents being quite common — including three this year.
Al-Wazir said the country’s railways have undergone a number of updates in recent weeks, including the installation of new electronically-controlled boom gates in lieu of their human-operated predecessors, who have been the cause of a number of accidents caused by cars crossing into the path of passing trains.
Egypt’s economy has been reeling from the ongoing shortage of dollars needed to operate its import-heavy economy.
Following the departure of more than $20 billion in foreign currency from investors earlier this year, Egypt’s banks and finance ministry have implemented a number of restrictive policies aimed at keeping dollars at home.
The measures include limits on how much foreign currency travellers can leave the country with in addition to higher tolls on ATM withdrawals of foreign currency by Egyptians abroad.
Earlier this month, the country's finance minister implemented a new measure requiring travellers to disclose how much cash they are carrying when entering the country.