CAIRO: Some 200 train conductors sat on the tracks to stop the 2 pm train heading to Alexandria at Cairo’s Ramsis railway station Monday in protest of increasing passenger fines. A couple of hours later, the Egyptian Railway Authority backtracked on their decision.
The protest began yesterday in Ramsis station against the Egyptian Railway Authority’s decision to increase fines for passenger caught on board without a ticket. They claim that the decision, taken by the board of directors on Jan. 22, will result in confrontations between passengers and conductors and endanger railway employees’ lives.
Fines would have tripled under the new decision and in some categories the increase would be even more. In third class carriages, fines were supposed to increase from 50 piasters to LE 10, second class from LE 3 to LE 15, and first class from LE 6 to LE 20.
Tareq Fahmy, a member of the General Alliance of Train Chiefs and Conductors, told Daily News Egypt that the Authority had no choice but to meet the conductors demands.
“There were many members of the press and TV channels covering the protest, and passengers were stranded on the platform for two hours. The passengers themselves supported our action and the presence of the media generated huge public interest – we won because the board of directors had to bow to this pressure, Fahmy said.
Protestors held up banners in the train station’s central ticket hall that read “no to injustice and “conductors are exhausted and reject the increase of fines.
“We’ll stay here until our demands that the decision be scrapped are met, Fahmy, told Daily News Egypt over the phone at 2:30 pm.
The protestors remained on the tracks for approximately two hours. At 4:45 pm they received the news that the board of directors has decided to rescind the fine increase.
“Conductors profit from fines but we’re refusing the decision to increase them. Passengers shouldn’t have to pay, Fahmy said.
“Are services on trains really so good that they can justify increasing fines? another conductor asked.
Conductors taking part in the protest told Daily News Egypt that violent altercations with passengers are one of the risks of the job, and described incidents of conductors being shot and stabbed.
Another conductor showed us a scar on his left hand after a passenger bit him.
“If passengers fired guns at us when the fine was 50 piastres what will they do to us when it’s LE 10? one conductor said.
Conductors also allege that they do not receive compensation for injuries sustained while at work.
Two conductors at the protest, one who lost a leg in a railway accident, and another who was violently assaulted on a train, both say that they have received nothing from the Railway Authorities since the incidents.
Protesting conductors shouted in anger at administrative staff who watched the protest from the first floor of Ramsis station.
Conductors told Daily News Egypt that they feel demoralized by the failure of out-of-touch senior managers to acknowledge the difficulty of working conditions. They say that this is reflected not only in the decision to increase passenger fines, but also in conductors’ salaries.
One protestor said that conductors who have been employed for over 10 years receive no more than LE 400 per month for working 24-hour shifts, six days a week.
Incentive payments are also low and are not always received by the conductors.
“We haven’t received the incentive payments they promised us in November 2007, one conductor told Daily News Egypt.