EGYPT BY TRAIN
It is hard to surpass the nostalgia of classic train travel: the clackety-clack of wheels rolling over the steel rails, the gentle rocking as your air-conditioned car rhythmically sways you through time and space. For those who have never ridden a train (except perhaps a commuter train or an airport tram), you have missed it! Try a rail journey! Used to super fast bullet trains that hurtle you through the countryside at breakneck speeds? Slow down, live a little, experience the leisure of Egypt's trains! Escape the commercialism of tourist kiosks! Egyptian trains are safe, relaxing, comfortable, and an economical way to feel the sights, sounds, and smells of Egypt.
A typical rail journey in Egypt might begin at Rameses Station, the major hub of rail transportation centrally located in Cairo. As you near the station, thousands of people mill about – some in a hurry, others moving with the pace of their donkey driven carts. Out of the crowd, several men appear simultaneously to carry your bags, asking your destination and if you have a ticket. Once inside the station, the air is charged with the excitement that always accompanies travel.
Getting a Ticket. If you are traveling with a group, your tour agent has probably arranged your tickets in advance. If not, don't worry! You can purchase a ticket at the station: go to platform #11 at Rameses Station or follow the signs in English and Arabic to ticket booth. The Tourist Information office, located just inside the station, can also assist you. If you are starting your trip from the Giza Station, purchase tickets outside the station. It is best to buy your ticket a couple of days in advance, but frequently the same day or one day in advance is enough. Exceptions to this rule include holidays, where it is best to make a reservation a week in advance. Weekends (Thursday and Friday) are the busiest train days.
Each ticket has assigned seating. The Car number and Seat number are written on the ticket in Arabic and English. Without a reservation, you can always get on the train, but it will add ŁE3 to the price of the ticket. Also, you will not be guaranteed to get a seat or may have to change seats as you travel.
Types of Trains
Trains fall into two main types: air-conditioned (aka, tourist trains) and non-air-conditioned (3rd Class or locals). There are four main types of air-conditioned trains: "Sleeper Train," "Spanish Train," "French Train," and Turbini. By the way, French and Spanish do not refer to the language spoken on the train nor its port of origin. Rather, the term "Spanish Train" refers to Egyptian made cars that were renovated in Spain. Spanish trains always leave from Platform #8 at Rameses Station. Trains with railway cars imported from France are called French Trains. French Trains leave from several different platforms at Rameses Station. The term "Turbini" refers to the type of engine used, a turbine.
Types of Train Service. Tourists typically do not take 3rd Class trains, which make many more stops than do the air-conditioned trains. Air-conditioned trains usually have up to 13 cars, with about 4 being 1st Class and the remainder 2nd Class. Air-conditioned trains can be broken down into three service categories: Sleeper trains, 1st Class, and 2nd Class.
UPPER EGYPT: Between Cairo and Aswan
Sleeper Trains. Privacy, a comfortable bed in which to sleep, a fine dinner (served with wine orcocktails at extra charge), and excellent service are the hallmarks of Egypt's sleeper trains. The sleeper trains run between Cairo and Aswan. Leaving from Rameses Station in Cairo, this train makes few stops: Giza Station, Assyuit, Luxor, Aswan. Typically the sleeper trains have about 8-12 sleeper cars. Cabins are either single or double. Rates for a single cabin are considerably higher than per person rates in a double cabin. However, the ticket price does include dinner (usually quite good!).
The sleeper train has an added attraction not found on other trains: a comfortable dining/drink car. It is decorated with wood paneling, brass lights, and friendly waiters attend to your every need. You might even get a little free entertainment by dancing and singing waiters in the refreshment car. The Sleeper Train leaves from Rameses Station each evening at 8:45 pm. Since your travel is mostly at night, views of the countryside are limited to early morning.
First and Second Class Cars. Wide, comfortable seats that recline and provide an adjustable foot rest typify First Class train service (usually 3 seats per row configured with 2 seats on one side of the aisle and 1 on the other side). Although not as inviting for sleep as a bunk, these seats allow most people to stretch out enough for reasonably comfortable sleep. Second Class seats are slightly smaller, less plush, and are configured with 2 seats on each side of the aisle. They are actually quite comfortable for service up to 3 or 4 hours, but not terribly comfortable for sleeping. Service on First Class trains is quite good; though Second Class does not have quite the same standard, it is certainly acceptable. The French train from Cairo to Aswan leaves from Rameses Station at 7:30 am and provides an excellent view of the countryside. Spanish trains leave from Rameses Station at 8:45 pm and 10:00 pm. On these late trains, the only view of the countryside is early in the morning from about Luxor on to Aswan. From Cairo to Aswan, 1st Class cars are at the front of the train near the engine; whereas, from Aswan to Cairo, the 1st Class cars are at the back of the train.
Food Service. In both classes, dinner (again good food) can be purchased for generally less than ŁE30. Additionally, there is ˝ car that is a buffet car – a little tricky for the average tourist. However, throughout the trip, someone will come to you from time to time to offer tea, mineral water, coffee, club sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, croissants or sweet rolls. You can also ask for a breakfast tray (about ŁE10). Drink prices range from ŁE1.25 – 2.0; sandwich from 2.5 – 7.0; and sweet roll for about ŁE1.
Toilets. Toilets are located at the back of each car. Don't have high expectations! They are functional and private; may or may not be clean. You will find a standard, western styled flush toilet and a sink. Do bring your own toilet paper if you do not plan to use traditional Egyptian water clean-up! Don't flush while in a station – refuse empties onto the tracks!
Luggage handling. There are always people hanging around the train stations willing to help you with your bags. About ŁE2 per bag is an appropriate tip. Also, don't forget to tip the man dressed in gray (outside and later on your train car), who will store your heavy luggage (in a locked compartment at the back of the car), until your arrival. Same rate applies.
Conductor. The train conductor will be dressed in blue with a patch or embroidered name saying "Chief of the Train" in Arabic. He will check your tickets after the first stop. A conductor will also check your tickets after stopping in Assyuit and Luxor (going from Cairo to Aswan) due to a personnel change.
Security. All trains have security officers. Normal security is a transport police officer. On trains with a lot of tourists, there will also be a general security police officer from the tourist police. Tourist policemen will be in uniform; however, security police do not necessarily wear a uniform. All carry some type of weapon.
Timeliness. Count on trains being on time! Egyptian trains are almost always exactly on time. Infrequently, a train may be delayed as much as one-half hour, but this is extremely rare.
Cost. Price of a 1st Class ticket from Cairo to Aswan (one-way) is ŁE69; from Cairo to Luxor is ŁE60. Second Class is approximately 15% less than first class.
Where does the train stop, how long does it take, and how far is it? It is about 882 km from Rameses Station in Cairo to Aswan. It generally takes about 12 hours by train (9 hours to Luxor) for the fast trains and 1 or 2 hours longer for the slow trains that stop at more villages and towns along the way. Major stops for the fast trains from Cairo's Rameses Station to Aswan: Giza (all trains stop in Giza, a western suburb of Cairo; the train crosses the Nile from the east to the west side of the river); Beni Suef; Minia; Assyuit; Suhag; Gherga; Nagha Hamaadi (the train crosses the Nile from the west side to the east side of the river here); Qena; Luxor; Esna, Edfu; Kom Ombo; Aswan.
LOWER EGYPT: Between Cairo and Alexandria
The beautiful Mediterranean port of Alexandria is a short 209 km from Cairo's Rameses Station. You can easily make a great day trip using Egypt's trains. It takes only 2-3 hours by train (about the same length of time it takes by bus) and is a lot more relaxing! An added highlight is the ride through the lush Delta farming area of Egypt.
Three principal types of trains connect Cairo and Alexandria: Turbini, Spanish, and French. Rates are very reasonable: First Class ranging from ŁE23 to ŁE30; and, Second Class ranging from ŁE14 to ŁE22. Important Note: There are two stations serving the Alexandria area: Sidi Gaber Station, located in a suburb of Alexandria (before you get to Alexandria proper coming from Cairo) and Alexandria Station. A partial listing of train numbers, times, train types, and notes are listed in the tables below. Additional local trains provide service between Cairo and Alexandria, so you should be able to get a train almost any time you need.
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