CAIRO — The Egyptian National Railway Authority announced on June 12 the completion of the restoration works of the royal train dating back to the era of King Farouk, 70 years after it had no longer been in use.
The authority said in a press statement that the train had been restored to its historical condition and its original components while preserving its ancient archaeological character and historical shape.
The statement added that the royal train was transferred on tracks via the Cairo-Alexandria line and will be displayed in the Royal Train Garage Museum in the garden of the Montazah Palace in Alexandria.
“The train was operated [from Cairo to Alexandria] rather than transported through giant trucks for road running, which indicates the great effort that was made to restore this historic train,” the authority added in its statement.
The royal train consists of two carriages accommodating 40 passengers and comfortable mobile seats that can be swiveled to face other passengers. The train is also equipped with 12 telephones in the rooms, salons and a driver's cabin, in addition to a kitchen as well as a royal salon for the king and his guests. The royal salon’s walls are padded from the inside.
The train's lighting systems are designed with fluorescent lights, with special glass allowing vision from the inside only. The train will be displayed in the museum next to the first tram coach in the history of Alexandria.
Al-Monitor contacted Ahmed Ashry, the engineer who oversaw the restoration of the train’s exterior — specifically the paints.
Ashry elaborated on some behind-the-scenes details of the restoration process.
He said that the team faced difficulties at the beginning “due to the dilapidated condition of the outer surface. Also, some of the lower parts of the train were installed on worn-out hinges, which fell as soon as work started on them.”
He added that any train consists of three parts — namely, the roof, the cabin and the wheels that move on the tracks. “In modern-day trains, the wheels are exposed, unlike in the royal train, which had a hinged iron cover covering the wheels. Reinstalling this part was one of the difficulties that we encountered during the restoration works.”
Ashry continued, “The train’s outer surface was made of a specific metal mixture of aluminum and iron, which made it difficult for the new paint to stick on it. This required a study and analysis on the outer surface of the train, and then a specific paint mixture that suits its nature was prepared.”
“We prepared a type of primer that has a high ability to adhere to the outer layers of the train's surface, and this primer was the key that enabled us to work comfortably after that with the paints,” he explained.
Ashry pointed out that the train appeared to have undergone an unsuccessful restoration process before, which was evident from the colors of the paints visible on it when the team received it.
“The train was painted with the colors of the current Egyptian flag (white, red and black), and of course, this was not the same flag during the era of King Farouk (green). We had to conduct lengthy online research to find pictures showing the train in its original colors when it was still operational, and it turned out that it was in fact green and silver,” he added.
“The restoration process required nearly eight nonconsecutive months, during which the train was completely restored to its original condition and its old shape. Even the accessories were professionally disassembled, restored and returned to the train again, and this was like rebuilding it from scratch,” he continued.
Ashry added, “The morale of the team differed drastically from when they first received the train to when they completed the work. At first, frustration prevailed given the challenges, and upon completion, pride was the master of the situation. Although it was not the best restoration job, compared to the initial state of the train, the work was in itself an achievement.”
It is noteworthy that the train was manufactured by the Italian company Fiat, and it entered Egypt in 1950 and only operated for two years. It was then suspended, with the end of the royal rule in Egypt following the July 23, 1952, revolution. It then remained in maintenance workshops.
King Farouk was the last king of the Egyptian kingdom, born on Feb. 11, 1920, and the last to rule Egypt from the Alawite dynasty founded by Muhammad Ali Pasha. King Farouk’s rule lasted for 16 years, beginning in 1936 until he was overthrown by the Free Officers movement in the 1952 revolution. The king and his family were deported to Italy, where he died on March 18, 1965.
Magdi Hanafy, antiques expert and author of the Encyclopedia of Egyptian Currency, praised the royal train restoration project. “It goes in line with the global trend of developing unique and rare pieces and revamping them to provide information to those interested.”
He told Al-Monitor, “There are many aficionados around the world who are eager to see these unique pieces and are willing to bear the costs of travel and accommodation just to see them. Egypt has many treasures worthy of restoration and display, and the warehouses of the royal palaces abound with many of them. The interest in these pieces will promote the so-called ‘history tourism,’ especially since the royal period in Egypt is considered somewhat unknown to many.”
He pointed out that many people are interested in collecting and seeing everything that is old and rare and related to transportation such as postage stamps, coins and medals.
He noted that “interest in the field of hobbies may be a prelude to another type of tourism that brings together interested people from around the world through exhibitions held to display these rare pieces periodically.”