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Now Arriving: The World’s Oldest Trading Empire Is Getting New Trains

Bruce Watson
July 12, 2017
For most of recorded history, Egypt has been at the cutting edge of transportation technology. The country had a canal connecting the Nile and the Red Sea thousands of years before the Suez Canal was built. Egypt boasts the world’s oldest seaport, and in 1852, it also opened the first rail line in Africa and the Middle East linking Alexandria to the city of Kafr el-Zayyat.
But all this glamorous history now needs some upgrades. Egypt’s once-proud rail network now carries less than 1 percent of all domestic freight. That’s just a fraction of the roughly 40 percent that trains in the U.S. carry, for example. Instead, the majority of Egypt’s goods add to congestion on the country’s already busy roads. “Truck transport causes lots of accidents, pollutes the environment and adds to the traffic for which Egypt — especially Cairo — has become notorious,” says Ayman Khattab, president and CEO of GE North Africa.

The country has big plans for making things better. Last year the government announced a plan to develop its infrastructure and provide improved services to its citizens called Vision 30. The plan calls for a massive upgrade to Egypt’s rail services, including improved rail lines, modernization of signaling systems, better track maintenance and a shiny new fleet.

That’s where GE comes in. On June 17, Egypt’s Ministry of Transportation and the Egyptian National Railway (ENR) signed a letter of intent with the company to purchase 100 ES30ACi Light Evolution Series locomotives for $575 million. The country expects that the new 3,200-horsepower diesel engines, which can be used for freight and passengers, will help move 15 percent of the country’s freight by rail by 2030.

 width= Top and above: Egypt's Vision 30 plan for improving its infrastructure and services includes 100 new GE locomotives. The country expects that the new 3,200-horsepower series diesel engines — each with enough oomph to pull the equivalent of 170 Boeing 747 jetliners — will help move 15 percent of the country’s freight by rail by 2030. Images credit: GE Reports

These trains, known as EVOs, were developed within GE’s Ecomagination program and are the result of a 10-year, $400 million investment into making trains that can go farther and faster on less fuel. Their 12-cylinder diesel engines make them tough; their digital brains, attached to the engine through sensors, makes them smart. By sensing which wheel needs the most power at any given time and redirecting it accordingly, the system helps keep the train more firmly planted on the tracks, which means trains can go faster and haul more cargo. As a result, one EVO can pull the equivalent of 170 Boeing 747 jetliners.

GE will provide parts and maintenance for these trains for 15 years. The company will also refurbish 81 GE locomotives that Egypt received as a grant in 2009. “Today, many of those locomotives aren’t operational, but we’re going to bring them back to good working condition,” Khattab says.

While some of these repairs will be done in the U.S., many will be done locally. GE is also training 275 rail technicians, engineers and drivers for ENR.

This locomotive sale is the latest step in GE’s 40-year partnership with Egypt. GE gas turbines provide power to more than 15 million homes in Egypt, and 115 GE engines lift EgyptAir’s planes. Overall, GE has over 700 employees in the country, working in Egypt’s transportation, aviation, oil, gas, healthcare and power industries.

Khattab says that Egypt has one of the biggest populations in North Africa and the Middle East that is also of the most well-educated and multilingual. “Egypt could become a hub for manufacturing, logistics and software development services,” he says.