It’s only a stone’s throw from Giza to Fayyoum. The distance can be covered in one hour by a car. But if you don’t own a car or aren’t lucky enough to get a ride, you have no choice but to wait for train 152, the very same one that crashed on Saturday, killing at least 18 people and leaving dozens more injured.
On its way from Giza, the Fayyoum-bound train stops at 19 stations. The journey usually takes two and a half hours, when it arrives safely. The worst case scenario is what happened on train 152’s first journey after the crash. The train crawled its way to Fayyoum, taking six hours to arrive and stopping 26 times on the way. Irate, some passengers got off the train, while others chose to complete their journey, their bitterness manifesting itself in acerbic jokes.
This is the first trip for train 152 since the crash, which delayed services for two days. The train departs at 5:00 PM. Passengers of every type have been waiting on the platform since 4:30. Employees, teachers, farmers, students, and street sellers carrying pots and dishes on their heads. They all wait for the train to arrive. Having sold what products they could to the Cairo-dwellers, these poor street sellers are on their way back to their home villages.
The clock strikes five and the train pulls into the station, its characteristic whistle announcing its arrival. As the passengers catch sight of it, their faces light up with a smile. They wonder if it is a new train.
They jump onto the train only to notice the new lighting, but they also realize the train is quite empty. "People must be scared to ride the train after the crash," they say to themselves. A large number of the passengers ride the rear car. "Watch out during the ride. If you see a train coming from behind, tell us so we can quickly jump out of the train," they say to each other.
Talk about the crash seems to haunt any discussion. Those passengers are on the very same train that crashed, after all. They even lost some of their fellow commuters in the crash. Meanwhile, the teachers exchange the papers, while the sellers empty their pots, take out loaves of bread and gobble down hot falafel and koshari.
The female sellers chatter about their daily experiences in the capital, while gobbling down their food. Time passes, but the train remains stationary. The employees start fidgeting as they see the express train pulling out of the Giza station at 5:30. The minute they see it leaving before theirs, some passengers jump out hoping to catch it before it’s too late. Others remain on their train, their eyes following the departing cars of the express in despair.
"It is fast, but the ticket is LE4.50," says a seller in her fifties, stretching her legs out on a seat. She munches on a guava and continues. "That means that someone like me will pay all the money she made just to book a ticket." Perhaps that’s why the passengers are choosing this train over the express one to get to their nearby villages.
The price of a ticket on this train to Ayyat depends on where you get off, but the price never exceeds LE3, even if you go all the way to the ends. But passengers are usually annual subscribers and don’t have to book a ticket everyday. The train is often packed in the mornings, with people sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, an inconvenience that female passengers like Shaimaa Naguib complain about.
It’s 5:40 now and finally, the train sounds its whistle to announce its departure. Everyone is seated in their places, though they never stop talking. "Today’s the first time we ride a good train. It’s lit up as well. There must be a crash to get them to give the poor some attention," they grumble. Fifteen minutes later, however, the train stops. "The train should’ve been deflected, now an express train could hit us from the rear," some scared passengers say.
About 37 minutes later, the train proceeds again amid the growls of the passengers. "We would have been in Hawamdeya by now," one passenger groans. But the train doesn’t even make it to Hawamdeya. In fact, two minutes later, the train stops at the village of Tamwah, where it stays for another 14 minutes, after being deflected.
"Just how dodgy is that!" yells Sami Abdalla Mabrouk, a 33-year-old driver, "Aren’t things supposed to be better after the crash? I have been using this line for ten years, but never have I seen such negligence!"
At 7:09 the train gets going. It hardly moves before it stops again near Omm Khannan village for a few minutes. Grimacing, Mohamed Abdel Baqy, a 47-year-old worker, says, "Why on earth is it that slow?"
At 7:22 the train is in Hawamdeya. From there, it leaves for Badrasheen, arriving there eight minutes later. The train is deflected to another track to make way for an express train. As the express train shoots past us, one passenger says, "Fast as lightning!"
The train ambles into el-Marazeeq station at 8:09. Then, it dawdles its way into Mazghouna station as some bored passengers prepare to dismount earlier than they should. Others have given in to deep sleep.
From Mazghouna the train goes to Beleida, where the train never used to stop, according to Ahmed Ali Sadeq, a 17-year-old student. At the Ayyat station, where the train arrives at 9:03, some passengers breathe a sigh of relief as they hurriedly collect their luggage and get off the train.
The train hurtles forward. As it passes the crash site, it seems as though it is mourning the doomed train whose cars still lay on both sides of the railway track.
It took the train 20 minutes to reach el-Wasty, one of the main stations. At 10:05, the lights are turned off and the people are left to wonder whether the train is ever going to make it to its final destination—Fayyoum.
The passengers cling to their seats, despite rumors that the train is not going to Fayyoum. "I have no option but to wait," one seller says," I can’t pay two or three pounds to get a microbus." The train has to stay at el-Wasty for 30 minutes as the locomotive is replaced with another fueled one. The train finally makes it to Fayyoum at 11:46 PM.
Springing out of her seat, one woman walks to the door insulting the government, the Railway Authority, and those who work there. Her anger is understandable after a journey of 83 kilometers in six hours.
Translated from the Arabic Edition.