Egypt’s capital city in the desert, the New Administrative Capital (NAC), under construction since 2015, is due to be unveiled before the year is out. In keeping with the futurism of buildings rising from the sand, the capital is set to be served by a multi-billion-dollar monorail.

Bombardier Transportation, now owned by Alstom, along with Orascom Construction and Arab Contractors, won the €2.7bn contract in 2019 to construct, operate and maintain roughly 100 kilometres’ worth of monorail lines, delivering commuters from Cairo to the new capital and another line headed for 6th of October City, a satellite city outside of Cairo.

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Problem of congestion and urban growth

“Egypt is a very densely populated country, especially in Cairo,” Ahmed Eldamanhoury, managing director of business development in Egypt at Alstom, tells fDi. “With a population of 20 million, the congestion here is creating a miserable life for people commuting every day, and the development of the rail networks was not matching the urban growth.”

Alstom will provide 70 four-car Innovia Monorail 300 trains to serve the 54-kilometre line between NAC and East Cairo and the 42-kilometre line connecting 6th of October City with Giza. The rail project will run on tyres on a concrete beam using electric power, reducing both carbon emissions and noise levels. Just eight of the trains have arrived in Egypt, with the two lines expected to be up and running by 2023.

As Cairo’s satellite cities are not supported by rail, they are heavily dependent on road infrastructure; the railway infrastructure around Cairo now is being tripled to support urban growth, according to Mr Eldamanhoury. The UN predicts that Cairo’s population will increase from 20.1 million inhabitants in 2018 to 25.5 million by 2030.

Historically, the city’s public transportation was built along the Nile, so most of the transportation lines were north–south. Now, projects like Alstom’s will push the infrastructure out towards the east and the west.

“From an economic perspective, I think having this [monorail] project built will save people time; it will save government spending on imports and reduce the city’s carbon footprint by reducing the number of cars on the roads,” he says, confident that the city itself will open in less than a few months. 

From Derbyshire to Cairo

The monorail is something of a win for the UK too. UK Export Finance (UKEF), the government’s export credit agency, has backed the £1.7bn project with the largest amount of financing it has ever provided for an overseas infrastructure project. 

The final assembly of the monorails is done in the UK, where it is set to support hundreds of local high-skilled jobs. Alstom currently employs 2000 people at its Derby plant and has set-up a new production line specifically to fulfil this contract.  

Adam Harris, head of civil, infrastructure and energy at UKEF, tells fDi that “Africa presents many opportunities for UK firms ready to export and invest in Africa” with business opportunities in areas such as water, transport, power generation infrastructure, healthcare and agriculture. 

“I think the monorail has huge potential in countries like Egypt, especially as there are lots of greenfield cities that have no existing rail public transportation infrastructure,” Mr Eldamanhoury says, adding that it is fast to implement with less capital expenditure.

Mr Eldamanhoury concedes that potential headwinds may come from the fluctuations in the cost of raw materials, but he maintains that this will only impact costs, not the project’s delivery time. 

This article first appeared in the October/November print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.