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Monday, April 19, 1999 Published at 01:13 GMT 02:13 UK

World: Middle East

Cairo's metro goes under Nile

Bridges have not been enough to relieve Cairo's congestion

By Barbara Plett in Cairo

The Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, has inaugurated the first metro line underneath the River Nile.

It is the latest phase of an expanding underground transport system in Cairo designed to relieve congestion in one of the world's most crowded cities.

The line links Cairo University to Tahrir Sqare five kilometres away in the centre of the city.

Everything about the metro system radiates national pride.

All of the country's presidents have central stations named after them and pharaonic statues sit in glass cages on the immaculate air conditioned platforms.

Even the two gigantic drilling machines that dug underneath the River Nile are named after ancient Egyptian queens, Hatshepsut and Nefertiti. A laser device directed them through the total darkness under the river bed to create a tunnel 520 metres long.

[ image: Cairo is one of the world's most congested cities]
Cairo is one of the world's most congested cities
The Cairo metro system is one of Egypt's most ambitious projects.

International contractors, led by the French, started tunnelling under this city of 15 million in the early 1980s to help relieve horrendous traffic jams.

They finished the first metro line 12 years ago after overcoming obstacles such as unmapped cables and seepage from the Nile.

Modern day pharoahs

Line One has already entered popular history as the birthplace of several babies, most of whom were given names related to the metro. This latest extension is part of a second line.

By the year 2005 Egypt hopes to have more than 150 kilometres of track in both Cairo and the city of Alexandria carrying 7 million passengers a day.

The entire project is expected to cost more than $7bn but without it surface traffic would become unmanageable.

Officials say it's worth the expense. Some will even tell you they are modern day pharaohs building Egypt's fourth pyramid.

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