France’s Thales submitted the lowest bid of $159m for the contract to upgrade the signalling system of the Asyut to Sohag route of Egypt’s mainline rail network.

The formal award of the contract is expected in May, according to the client, Egyptian National Railways.

Germany’s Siemens and France’s Alstom also submitted an offer for the World Bank-funded project.

The Asyut-Sohag route is about 120 kilometres (km) long.

In April 2016, Siemens won a contract to upgrade the signalling system on the 260km rail line running between Benha and Port Said on the northeast and between Zagazig and Abu Kebir in the north of Cairo.

In July 2014, Alstom was selected for the design, supply, installation and commissioning of the signalling and central traffic system for the Beni Suef-Asyut line while Thales won the $140m signalling and safety contract for the Cairo-Alexandria line in March 2013.

Upgrading its rail network’s signalling systems is an urgent priority for Egypt. A series of fatal accidents have occurred in recent years, largely due to signalling failures. It is understood that more than 80 per cent of signals are still mechanical, making the rail network highly susceptible to human error. The latest accident occurred in September 2016, when five people died and more than 30 were injured when three carriages of a train heading from Cairo to Aswan went off the track before flipping over.