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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Cairo Railroad Museum

After looking over the interior of the railway station, we were ready to move on to the Railroad Museum that we had come to see.
RamsesStation-15 RamsesStation-16

A smiling attendant let us know that the museum was closed for remodeling - but he would check with management to see if we could, perhaps, see part of it anyway.

Now it turns out that this gem of a transportation museum has been closed for remodeling for several years.  This 2012 article in The Cairo Observer reports: 

In 2010 when train and railway enthusiasts complained about the conditions of the museum, the railway company decided to renovate the museum along with its renovation of the station. This has led to the overnight disappearance of this wonderful time capsule as the contents of the museum were removed to an unknown location, the original lighting from the 1930s seen in the picture above (installed at the tops and middle of the columns) was removed and air vents were installed on the ceiling which was painted a dark gray color. The beautiful and once perfectly intact original 1930s floor tiles were removed. Since then there has been no progress in the construction and renovation of this museum.
A 2010 article in the Egypt Independent documented the sad state that parts of the museum had sunk to.
Possibly most impressive, however, at least for the photographically inclined, are the dozens upon dozens of glass-plate photographs hung on each of the pillars holding up this two-story museum. Capturing images of Egyptian social life and transportation from as far back as the 1880s, with most at least 100 years old, these are pictures that will not be found anywhere else--not online, nor in some hidden archive.

It’s at this point that the museum starts to disappoint. Many, if not most of these highly unique pictures, which were developed on glass plates without negatives, are either cracked, missing pieces, unlit, or heavily faded. The images are displayed with small light bulbs illuminating each one from behind. The light bulbs themselves, when they work, are, according to this writer’s guide at the museum, a hazard to the images themselves, causing too much heat which fades the pictures over time. The guide said that the museum is desperate to find a specialist to scan the plates (ideally pro bono) before it’s too late.
It appears that the museum may finally be coming close to reopening.  We were allowed inside, but just to see one locomotive - and absolutely no pictures!  But, the locomotive we saw was the gem of the collection, the private Khedive "special," built by Robert Stephenson exclusively to move Said Pasha between his two palaces in Alexandria.

Tour Egypt has the picture we were not allowed to take - and quite a few more.

And, nothing so famous escapes capture via postcard.  (But no, you cannot see the pyramids from Alexandria.)

Back outside the museum, there is another ancient locomotive, a cousin of the pasha's, so to speak - also built by Robert Stephenson.

And in spite of this plaque, Robert Stephenson's father, did not invent the steam locomotive.  But he did decide to put the rails 4 feet, 8 and one half inches apart and that is why "Standard Gauge" is also sometimes known as Stephenson Gauge. 

George Stephenson, according to this article in History Today, did play a major role in developing railroads.  The locomotive appears to be invented by Richard Trevithick in 1804.  Of course, that article calls Mr. Trevithick Robert instead of Richard.  But it gives some short and readable background on the elder Stephenson and early railroading. Who can you trust for good history nowadays?
Robert Trevithick
Robert Trevithick

For a railroad buff, the trip to the museum is likely worthwhile, even if you only get a peek inside at the pasha's locomotive.  The setting inside, at least for the Khedive special, appears much better than what was pictured in the past.  But with all of the problems facing Egypt, it is understandable that renovating a railroad museum is not high on the priority list.

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