Train Rides to and From Cairo As some of you may or may not already know, I am currently living and working in Cairo. My father’s family home is in Alexandria. I have become an expert of some sort when it comes to taking the train to Alexandria. I have been commuting between the two cities regularly for the past 5 years now.
Why the train you may ask? Well, there are many truths to the matter. When I moved to Cairo I decided to give my sister my car, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the traffic and the tedious task of trying to find a parking spot whenever I decided to go some where. Plus, it reduced my expenses greatly! I suppose that in some very indirect way, I am also doing my part in trying to reduce the pollution that now looms over the city like a constant black rain cloud. Another reason I take the train is because after a long week and day of work, the last thing I would want to do is add to my stress level by driving through Cairo on a Thursday afternoon and fight my way to the desert road. I would much rather unwind. In addition I don’t really think I would have the energy or the alertness that I would need to drive. At least while I’m on the train I can sit back relax, watch a movie on my laptop, enjoy the view, read a book, listen to my iPod and even take a nap. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I was in the car. It is always best to book your tickets ahead of time.
The earliest you can book is two weeks before you are due to leave. If you live in Heliopolis, Cairo (the ancient city of the sun), then you have no idea how blessed you are. Instead of having to trek all the way down town, to Ramses station, you can just hop over to Central Almaza. There you can buy your train ticket. If you are visiting the country and would like to pay Alexandria a visit, then I am fairly sure that you can ask the receptionist at the hotel to book and purchase your tickets for you. Just make sure that you give the exact date that you would like to go. 1st class ticket 50LE. (If you are in Alexandria then you have no choice to go to either Sidi Gabr or Alexandria station to get you ticket). If you’re a spontaneous person and like to take trips on the whim, you can get on the train and try you luck. You will be able to purchase a ticket at the ticket booth, if you don’t you can buy one on the train, it will cost you double though and you may not have a seat for the entire duration of the train ride.
IMPORTANT NOTE!! Be warned that not all the trains are direct. (It makes a difference) A direct train will get you to Alexandria (or Cairo) in two and half hours, with a brief (possible) stop in Tanta. If you don’t take a direct train, then you will be stopping at every station between Cairo and Alexandria and that could take you 4 hours or more!
If you are planning on taking a trip to, or from Alexandria, then may I be so bold as to suggest that you should ALWAYS travel first class. The reason being is that the cars are air-conditioned, the seats are comfortable (they recline, have a foot rest and a pull out table) and it’s not as dirty as the rest of the classes. The up keep of the trains are unlike trains in Europe or North America. It’s quite….ummmm…..disappointing to say the least and misleading, especially since it is classed as 1st class. The pocket that is in front of your chair is caked in years worth of dust and dirt. The pull out tables that are in the arm of the chair are not as bad, because many people haven’t discovered their location. To be on the safe side bring along your hand sanitizer and your wet tissues to wipe it down before you place any perishables on it. The water closet is a HEALTH HAZARD! I don’t think it has been cleaned since the train was first put on the tracks. I don’t think you could carry enough wet tissues or toilet seat covers to make you feel safe. So, my advice is make sure you go to the toilet before you get on the train and try not to drink at least an hour before you depart for the station, you don’t want to be sat crossed legged with a bladder that is ready to explode for the whole journey.
There is a food cart that passes up and down the isles a few times during the trip. They offer drinks (water, canned soft drinks, tea & Nescafe) and pre-packed sandwiches. You can also order breakfast, lunch or dinner on the train too. It smells delicious but after seeing the condition of the toilets, I wouldn’t risk eating a meal on the train. I fight enough germs and bacteria on a daily basis. I strongly recommend that you have lots of change, to pay for the beverages or food you buy. Another helpful note; the man pushing the food cart will no charge you when you order the food, he will charge you 15-20 minutes before you reach your destination. (Don’t ask me why, I am still trying to figure it out)
You will also need change to tip the man in charge of the car you are in, if you entrust him with your luggage or if he carries it on for you and places it over you seat. If you don’t have one or two bags 5 LE is sufficient. If you have more then 10-15LE is very generous. If you need a porter to take your luggage and push it on the big trolley, they charge the locals 5LE for that service. Don’t get suckered in to paying too much.
The train is usually arrives and leaves promptly. There have been occasions when the train pulls in to Sidi Gaber (1st stop in Alex), really late because of work on the tracks or problems with other trains. I hope this helps you. Enjoy your trip