Figure 5. Transportation System, 1990
Cairo metro train, the first underground system in the Middle East and
Courtesy Embassy of Egypt, Washington
Egypt's road and rail network was developed primarily to
transport population and was most extensive in the densely
populated areas near the Nile River (Nahr an Nil) and in the Nile
Delta. Areas along the Mediterranean coast were generally served by
a few paved roads or rail lines, but large areas of the Western
Desert, Sinai Peninsula (Sinai), and the mountains in the east were
inaccessible except by air
fig. 5). The Nile and a system of
canals in the Delta were the traditional means of transporting
goods, although freight was increasingly carried by truck or rail.
The entire system was unable to keep up with rapid population
growth, particularly in the large urban areas, and expansion and
modernization of all forms of transportation were under way.
In early 1990, Egypt had more than 49,000 kilometers of roads,
of which about 15,000 kilometers were paved, 2,500 kilometers were
gravel, and the remaining 31,500 kilometers were earthen. The
highway system was concentrated in the Nile Valley north of Aswan
and throughout the Delta; paved roads also extended along the
Mediterranean coast from the Libyan border in the west to the
border with Israel. In the east, a surfaced road ran south from
Suez along the Red Sea, and another connected areas along the
southern coast of Sinai from Suez to the Israeli town of Elat. A
well maintained route circled through several western oases and
tied into the main Nile corridor of highways at Cairo in the north
and Asyut in the south. Large areas of the Western Desert, the
mountainous areas near the Red Sea, and the interior of the Sinai
Peninsula remained without any permanent-surface roads, however.
The state-owned Egyptian Railways had more than 4,800
kilometers of track running through the populated areas of the Nile
Valley and the coastal regions. Most of the track was 1.435-meter
standard gauge, although 347 kilometers were 0.750-meter narrow
gauge. Portions of the main route connecting Luxor with Cairo and
Alexandria were double tracked and a commuter line linking Cairo
with the suburb of Hulwan was electrified. Built primarily to
transport people, the passenger service along the Nile was heavily
Less heavily traveled routes provided connections to outlying
areas. A coastal route west from Alexandria to the Libyan border
was being upgraded to allow for increased passenger travel. Tracks
along the Mediterranean coast of Sinai, destroyed during the June
1967 War, had been repaired, and service was restored between Al
Qantarah on the Suez Canal and the Israeli railroad system in the
Gaza Strip. New ferry boats allowed passengers at Aswan, the
southern terminus of the Egyptian Railways, to connect with the
Sudanese system. A new line intended to export phosphates was under
construction from Al Kharijah in the Western Desert to the port of
The southern leg of the forty-two-kilometer Cairo Metro, the
first subway system in Africa or the Middle East, opened in 1987.
This line, built with the cooperation of France, linked Hulwan in
the south with three main downtown stations, named Sadat, Nasser,
and Mubarak. In 1989 the northeast line opened, extending from
downtown to the suburbs. The city planned to build an east-west
route across the Nile to Giza (Al Jizah). The government hoped that
the subway construction would relieve the extremely jammed streets,
buses, streetcars, and trains.
Although Egypt had sixty-six airfields with paved runways, only
the airports at Cairo and Alexandria handled international traffic.
EgyptAir, the principal government airline, maintained an extensive
international network and had domestic flights from Cairo and
Alexandria to Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel (Abu Sunbul), and Al
Ghardaqah on the Red Sea. In 1983 EgyptAir carried 1.6 million
passengers. A smaller, state-owned airline, Air Sinai, provided
service from Cairo to points in the Sinai Peninsula. Zas Passenger
Service, the newest airline and the only one that was privately
owned, had daily flights from Cairo to Aswan, Luxor, Al Ghardaqah,
and points in Sinai.
Alexandria was Egypt's principal port and in the early 1990s
was capable of handling 13 million metric tons of cargo yearly.
Egypt's two other main ports, Port Said (Bur Said) and Suez,
reopened in 1975, after an eight-year hiatus following the June
1967 War. Realizing the importance of shipping to the economy, the
government embarked on an ambitious plan in the late 1980s to build
new ports and increase capacity at existing facilities, including
constructing a facility capable of handling up to 20 million metric
tons of cargo just west of Alexandria. Bur Safajah on the Red Sea
was being developed to handle phosphate exports, and the first
stage of a new port at the mouth of the Nile's eastern Damietta
(Damyat) tributary opened in 1986.
Egypt had about 3,500 kilometers of inland waterways. The Nile
constituted about half of this system, and the rest was canals.
Several canals in the Delta accommodated ocean-going vessels, and
a canal from the Nile just north of Cairo to the Suez Canal at
Ismailia (Al Ismailiyah) permitted ships to pass from the Nile to
the Red Sea without entering the Mediterranean Sea. Extensive boat
and ferry service on Lake Nasser moved cargo and passengers between
Aswan and Sudan.
The Suez Canal was Egypt's most important waterway and one of
the world's strategic links, being the shortest maritime route
between Europe and the Middle East, South Asia, and the Orient.
Serious proposals for a canal between the Mediterranean and the Red
Sea had been made as early as the fifteenth century by the
Venetians, and Napoleon ordered the first survey of the region to
assess a canal's feasibility in 1799. After several subsequent
studies in the early nineteenth century, construction began in
1859. After ten years of construction and numerous unforeseen
difficulties, the canal finally opened in 1869
(see Suez Canal
, this ch.).
The canal extends 160 kilometers from Port Said on the
Mediterranean to a point just south of Suez on the Red Sea. It can
handle ships with up to sixteen meters draught; transit times
through the length of the canal averaged fifteen hours. Passing
occurs in convoys with large passing bays every twenty-five
kilometers to accommodate traffic from opposite directions. Traffic
patterns have changed considerably over the last century,
reflecting different global priorities: passenger transit has
dropped while the movement of goods, especially petroleum, has
increased dramatically. It was estimated that before the 1967 ArabIsraeli War, 15 percent of the world's total sea traffic passed
through the canal.
Data as of December 1990