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Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Cairo Metro - a few updates

I haven't posted for a while as I was away for a month and then since I got back, have been busy working on a project (which I hope to reveal soon!)

Anyway, yesterday I was out and about on the metro and thought I should highlight a few changes which have happened over the past 3-4 months for those of you who may not have used the metro for a while.

Women's Cars (carriages)

First thing to remind everyone is that for around 2 years now, the women's cars have been the two in the middle of the train, not the front one.  Some guide books and internet sites which have not been amended give the outdated information.  Also, as a reminder, women can travel in ANY car.  Men are not supposed to ever go in the ladies' car labelled in red, but can use the ladies' car labelled in green in the evenings.  Sometimes men accidentally get on them, and upon realising their error, look all embarrassed until they can get off and move down to the mixed cars.  I have witnessed police 'raids' a couple of times where they turf all the men out of the red-labelled ladies' car.

Since I returned from my trip, signs have been appearing on platforms showing the position of the ladies' cars more prominently.  Some stations have had them before, but written in Arabic and not obvious. Recently, quite a few stations have now got clear blue signs saying 'Ladies' on them - this is not indicating the location of toilets, but where you should stand for the Ladies' cars.

Getting on and off

Generally speaking, getting on and off the train is a bit of a scrum, especially in rush hour or at the most popular stations (Mubarak and Sadat - the two interchange stations).  However, for the past 3-4 months, posters have been going up in metro stations indicating that you should get ON to the train using the middle two sets of doors on each carriage and OFF the train using the end two sets of doors on each carriage.

So far, carriages on the Shubra/Giza line have been labelled accordingly with very clear signs, both inside and outside the carriages indicating whether you should be using that door to get on and off.  I first noticed these about 3 months ago, and I was amazed to note that where the carriages are labelled accordingly most people actual FOLLOW this!  Of course, occasionally if the carriage is very busy and there is no time to push down to the exit doors, people will still get off in the middle, and also if you are rushing for the train on at the ends. But, all in all, people are making an effort.  So far, all the labelling appears to be on the Shubra/Giza line only.  I haven't yet seen any El Marg/Helwan trains labelled up (though the posters are at stations for both lines so this will clearly be brought in eventually).

Travelling in the heat

Most of the trains I have travelled on - both lines - are air conditioned (or blowing cool air into the carriages through vents).  However, one day last week I was on an old Helwan metro and was amused to discover a very Egyptian solution to a problem which has baffled London Underground engineers for years - how to cool the carriages in hot weather ....

Yes, that is a fan stuck up there.  There were a number of them located around the carriage supplying a nice cool breeze.

So actually, using the metro in the hot weather is not as bad as it might be.

Cairo Metro

Metro stations can be found above ground by spotting the big red M on a blue background signs.

There are two lines (with a third under construction).  Shubra-Giza and El Marg - Helwan.  There are just two interchange stations at present, Mubarak - which is right under Ramses Main Train Station, and Sadat - which is the station at Tahrir - for Mogamma, Egyptian Museum, the AUC Downtown campus, and a number of other important places.

One thing to notice is that the names of stations given in many of the tourist maps and guides are NOT CORRECT.  Whether this is because stations may have been renamed at some point in the past 6-7 years or what, I don't know.  Also, new stations at the ends appear occasionally, for example, on the El Marg line, there's a new station appeared north of El Marg which isn't on the maps - it's called something like New El Marg.

Station names are all given in English letters as well as in Arabic so don't worry about that!

The stations are surprisingly clean. Trains are frequent and I haven't personally experienced a breakdown, though apparently there was one 2 years ago which made everyone 20 minutes late one day and was the subject of much comment and threats never to travel by metro again! (One 20 minute delay in how many moons?  20 minute delays were the daily norm on the jolly old Victoria LIne back when I were a working lass in London not so long ago!)

Time from El Giza to Sadat is around 15 minutes and El Giza to Mubarak, around 20 minutes. During the day, from El Giza up to Sadat and down to El Maadi is maybe 30-40 minutes.

The fare is 1LE for a single journey anywhere on the network - from one end to the other - crossing lines, or from one station to the next.  If you are going to be doing a lot of travel - eg study or work, then season tickets are available, though I think you have to be making 10 journeys a week for it to work out as worth it.

To buy a ticket, go down into the metro station and you will see ticket booths. You may be lucky and there may be no queue. Otherwise, you will have to push and shove your way to the front and deposit 1LE per ticket under the glass hatch and grab a ticket back again. If you are new to this, I suggest you try to pay the exact fare and not have to wait for change as people will just be pushing over you. Do NOT try and be polite and stand in a queue, otherwise you will be waiting for ever. Not a time to be shy.

To get access to the platforms, you have to push your ticket into a machine - like the ones on London Underground and on Paris Metro (I think - haven't travelled there for many years) - and it pops up on the other side - don't forget to take it and keep it! - and you can push through the turnstile bar.  To get back out of the station, you have to reenter your ticket - and this time the machine will keep it - so make sure you keep hold of your ticket while travelling!

At all the stations I have been to, there are attendants around to help you on the rare occasions tickets get stuck in the system or if the turnstile bar doesn't open for you.  I've seen a few people jumping over the turnstiles, but very few compared to what I used to see all the time in London.

They don't have Oyster cards yet though ;)

I was very surprised when I asked the question on a forum about 3 years ago how few of the foreigners on that forum had ridden the metro, which is quite a pleasure most of the time. One of my friends did get spat at by a hawker on the metro when she didn't buy anything from him (he was walking through the ladies' car) but that is a pretty rare event.

Cairo Metro official link

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