Office: (44) (0) 5603 676623  |  Independent Communications Consultancy based Westminster, London SW1
Office: (44) (0) 5603 676623  |  Independent Communications Consultancy based Westminster, London SW1

Digital Communications Index: Egyptian Railways

MENA Railways Digital Communications Index: Egypt

Egyptian Railways logo

All images ©ENR unless stated

Introduction

I’ve taken an interest in Egyptian National Railways (ENR) for nearly 30 years, since I lived there in the 1990s. I wrote a book about the network’s history way back in 2002 to mark ENR’s 150 anniversary, and followed it up with a documentary video in 2004! See more about these here and here. 

New ENR Station at Faqus

In those days ENR was invisible outside Egypt. It actively discouraged photography and information about itself, so getting any up-to-date information was like getting the proverbial blood out of a stone. Timetables, maps and station names were difficult, but getting good photos, videos and technical information on rolling stock risked being accused of ‘spying’. In fact, I was accused of ‘spying’ at Tell el-Kebir in 1992 and only narrowly talked my way out of the situation. Luckily I wasn’t carrying a camera at that time. I have happier memories of other stations, such as Faqus (recently rebuilt). 

ENR has very good digital communications

Now, I would expect a huge railway undertaking with millions of passengers to be good at communications. It is, and actually I’ve been pleasantly surprised how good the comms are, with certain reservations, so Egyptian National Railways scores a well-earned 8/12. Well done. I’m glad to see things have improved. 

My reservations about ENR’s approach to its comms centre on its underused, old-fashioned website and over-reliance on Facebook. It also has a successful app for Android users, which is frustrating for an Apple/IOS user. I’d probably switch to Android if I lived in Egypt as the app seems very useful. 

A note on languages. While the default language is Arabic, ENR provides a lot in English. The website is in English as well as Arabic, and most Facebook posts are offered in both. Sadly Google Translate often doesn’t do a good job with technical information and Egyptian placenames but you can get the gist. 

ENR Arabic Website

1/2. Website

Arabic Website + English Website

Yes, ENR has Arabic and English versions of its website and they match exactly, so score 1 point. 

Does the website feel ‘alive’? Well, I’ll be generous and say yes to give the point, but I should explain more. There are news headlines scrolling on the Homepage, but none are linked to longer articles. There is no Blog page. So there’s a minimal, forgotten feel to the website. But because the Facebook is so vibrant and alive, that save the point here. 

Generally the website is good and tidy but seems sparse and dated. For example there are no blog posts or social media links (not even to Facebook), no maps or information on train classes or station facilities. 

The Homepage has a slow Flash graphic showing the main intercity lines. It has a basic news headline feed that doesn’t link to more detailed articles. There is a login area so visitors can book train tickets (1st and 2nd Classes only) and detailed instructions to follow. 

On the Timetable page, visitors can select from 17 of Egypt’s major stations and choose trains between them. Full details and prices are displayed but that’s about as far as it goes. Members might see more a further screen to buy tickets online. 17 is a very small selection of Egypt’s 705 stations, but see the app for more information. 

The Offers page lists official announcements such as calls to tender for contracts.

The Gallery page has 32 good photos of trains, stations and other infrastructure. One that struck me was of the new station building at Faqus junction in the rural delta. 

The Museum page (located next to Cairo Central station) has 23 pictures. 

The About Us page provides good overall statistics about ENR as well as a basic history. 

3. Is there an app?

Yes, there’s a functioning app for Android users so score 1 point. 

ENR has an app for Android available to download from the Google Play site. I use Apple/IOS so can’t personally download and explore the app but I can read the capabilities and the user reviews here (in English) If anyone uses the app please let me know. 

The app has very good reviews and over half a million downloads since going live in 2018. With a detailed explainer video and other guides, the app seems transformative and probably explains why the website has been sidelined. Passengers can book tickets of all classes between any two from Egypt’s 705 stations of all sizes. The app is also available in Arabic and English. There is a useful guide here from Cairo360.

4. Can you buy tickets online?

Yes, so score 1 point. 

Passengers can buy tickets of all classes through the app, for all 705 stations, and also 1st/2nd class tickets for 17 stations through the website. 

5. Is there live running information?

No, I can’t see any information regarding live movements of train services.

6. Twitter

No. There is a confused collection of dormant Twitter accounts for Egyptian railways, and some appear official when they are not. 

ENR advises of delays caused by planned engineering works

7. Facebook. 

Yes, a vibrant Facebook account so score 1 point. 

ENR seems to focus its engagement on Facebook and that’s a success. The account has over 100,000 followers and articles are widely liked, shared and commented upon. The account posts a variety of items with at least one every day. 

The posts are a mixture of information, PR and other updates, including for Ramadan and Eid el-Fitr, and for reassurance during the Covid-19 pandemic. There are pieces on visits by government ministers and senior officials. There is information about major resignalling projects, station rebuilding and other infrastructure work. There are regular graphics to advise passengers about delays caused by ongoing engineering works. 

The Facebook page holds numerous photos, graphics and videos, which means ENR uses it to host videos and images instead of using its own website or a YouTube channel. 

The posts originate in Arabic but translations appear (of varying intelligibility) via Google Translate. Google Translate doesn’t handle the technical information or Egyptian place names very well. 

All in all, the Facebook page is – alongside its app – ENR’ most useful and effective digital communications tool. 

8. YouTube

No. ENR doesn’t run an official YouTube channel. 

This is true, but I intended this index to reward good practice. So ENR does post lots of videos and they cover a lot of the network, and are quite ‘newsy’. This is all good practice, so I’ll give ENR 1 point for its videos despite the fact they’re on Facebook not YouTube or its own website. I think that’s a missed opportunity and hope someone rectifies it. 

There are unofficial fan channels on YouTube devoted to videos of Egyptian railways. For example Ahmed Oran’s channel has dozens of videos stretching back over the years. The fact it has over 26000 subscribers shows there’s an appetite for videos about railways in Egypt. As an aside, I recently watched an Egyptian disaster movie culminating in an epic (CGI) train wreck called (An Hour and a Half) on Netflix. I can’t add this to ENR’s digital comms score though!

Fan channels and disaster movies don’t give ENR the same control of the narrative as a proper YouTube channel would for all its videos, or the space to be ambitious about explaining itself in marketing videos, news or documentaries. 

9. Instagram

No. As with YouTube there is a popular fan account called egypt_transportation that boasts nearly 3000 followers and 2340 posts.

10. Newsletter/Subscription

No. I couldn’t see anywhere on the app or website to subscribe to marketing material such as a newsletter. 

ENR advises wearing facemarks to stop the spread of Covid-19.

11. Evidence of Campaigns

Yes, on Facebook so score 1 point.

The Covid-19 campaign covers a few strands. These include staff working to ensure maximum hygiene; information about train services; wearing masks and social distancing. There are lots of good videos on Facebook. 

ENR also posts on Facebook regular updates about engineering work (pictured).

12. Overall engagement

Yes, Facebook saves this so score 1 point. 

Since the Facebook page is so vibrant and engaging, it compensates for the more lacklustre platforms such as the website and missing social media channels. Since ENR is such an old-established fixture of Egyptian life (for nearly 170 years!) I believe it could do more to harness the goodwill and improve its positioning. With investment in major renewals, new trains, new stations and potentially a new high speed line, I believe ENR could use better digital communications to update its image for the 21st century. 

Conclusion.

Egyptian National Railways scores a very good 8/12. A few quick wins like functioning Twitter and YouTube channels would move it into the ‘excellent’ position.    

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