Egypt's transport minister warns railway employees over negligence

Shrug off lethargy or get ready to be replaced by foreign operators, railway workers told

Egypt's transport minister  on Wednesday threatened to hire foreign operators to run the country's troubled railway service if negligence by employees of the state-owned rail authority persisted.

Kamel El Wazir's warning came after two train accidents on consecutive days this week that left two people dead and more than 40 injured.

The accidents, in Cairo and the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, followed a series of deadly train disasters in March and April that killed at least 43 and injured hundreds.

Mr El Wazir, a retired army general, said he had not received "sufficient co-operation" from the senior managers and employees of the Railway Authority since he took the job in 2019, despite what he said were generous state funds spent on upgrading and modernising the rail service.

If the "laziness and lethargy" continue, Mr El Wazir said, he would contract foreign companies already doing business with the Transport Ministry to run the rail service.

"There is no place for those who are corrupt, negligent or lethargic when it comes to the rights of the Egyptian people."

Any employee found to have made a mistake that caused loss of life or material damage will be fired, he said.

“The leaders and workers of the Railway Authority must work day and night and carry out their tasks exactly as per their job description,” Mr El Wazir told reporters at a signing of a $110-million contract with a South Korean consortium to upgrade the signals system on a 118-kilometre rail link between the southern cities of Luxor and Nagaa Hamady.

The series of recent train accidents have turned a spotlight on Egypt's struggling railway sector, making it the centre of a national conversation.

The initial findings of prosecutors looking into the causes of the March-April accidents have revealed a litany of criminal negligence, corruption and even the use of drugs by rail workers while on duty.

Arrests have been made, with some railway officials now facing charges of manslaughter.

On Sunday, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said government workers would now be subject to random drug tests, and anyone found with illegal substances would be sacked.

Besides hundreds of accidents a year – many of them too minor to be reported by the local media – the debt-ridden service is plagued by delays, overcrowding and technical glitches.

Mr El Wazir has said there are plans to spend 225 billion pounds until 2024 on overhauling the country's rail service.

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