Opinion: A Four Hour Trip on Third-Class Train Shows Another Side Of Egypt’s Railway System
By Nada Hamouda
Recently, Egypt’s railway system has been having a poor safety record with frequent deadly collisions, mostly blamed on decades of poor management and maintenance. Thus, I begin to realize that my intense trip in one of Egypt’s third-class trains is an experience that might actually highlight a passenger perspective, hopefully!
They say great stories begin with a coincidence. Probably, they’re right as the whole riding a train thing was unplanned. After a hard day in Mansoura conducting an interview for a college assignment, my friend and I decided to take the train on our way back to Cairo.
However, the moment we stepped into the train station, something felt adventurous. “Hurry up it’s the last train to leave to Cairo Today,” said the ticket clerk while handing us the tickets we thought were for the first-class train. The fact that the tickets cost 15 L.E, not even for each but for both of us, should have given us a hint of what we’re up to; our bad, I guess.
We reached the platform as the train was just entering the station and people started rushing to the train from God knows where. “This is absolutely not the train we are supposed to be riding,” my friend shouted and another clerk told us if we didn’t get in, there will be no other trains. Once in, it felt like getting into the subway during the rush hour. With the rule of “first to arrive, first to sit”, no wonder why people were jumping into the train from the windows.
Fortunately, we spotted two seats with two plastic bags on them, however, the owner gently allowed us to sit where the plastic bags were! Two places we immediately changed in the next stop due to the big scary guy standing beside us who was inappropriately looking at the two chicks with cameras and tripods in their hands.
With the broken windows, the no air conditioning or even fans in there, the rattling sounds of the door separating the train carriages, and the vendors who kept getting on and off at each stop, some behaviors probably made it worse. Though everybody pays for the tickets, most people don’t get to sit for a whole ride. However, does that lack of satisfying services give them the right to smoke inside the train or to raise their voices and throw garbage under their own feet?
If the people weren’t eating, alternatively they were sleeping, I’m not sure how they could on those seats where you could feel every single movement of the train. I guess sitting so close to each other helped to maintain their sleeping position as someone borrowed his neighbor shoulder to rest his head on.
It’s still probably the most uncomfortable trip we’ve ever made; the four-hour ride felt endless. We were quite broken and very tired, but at the same time, it has been a unique experience giving us a tiny glimpse of some Egyptians we don’t notice much. Besides, we had our funny moments, too, which helped us to take it easy and be more patient.