News / Middle East

    Iraq Laying Plans to Rebuild Rail System

    Passengers board train heading to Basra at rail station, Baghdad, May 6, 2013.
    Passengers board train heading to Basra at rail station, Baghdad, May 6, 2013.
    Reuters
    In a shabby, rusty train that had just left Baghdad for the southern city of Basra, Riyadh Saleh moved restlessly from carriage to carriage, searching for a comfortable, air-conditioned seat.
     
    Saleh was one of about 200 passengers taking a 25-year-old diesel train to Basra last week; he was enticed by fares as low as 7,500 dinars ($6.50) for a seat on the 600-kilometer (375-mile) journey. But like many others, he felt the experience — especially the train's top speed of 60-70 km/hour — left much to be desired.
      
    "The train is not comfortable, it is rocking. I do not feel secure — I feel it will turn over at any moment. Besides, it is slow," said the retired civil servant, who was traveling with 10 other family members to attend a relative's wedding in Basra.

    Iraq's infrastructure is dilapidated after decades of war, sanctions and economic decline. In a country where piles of rubble and incomplete buildings are commonplace, almost every sector needs investment, including electricity and the sewage system.
     
    But the country is laying plans to rebuild its historic railways and become a transit hub for goods that would be shipped from Asia to Iraq's neighbors and beyond.
     
    Iraq's railways date back 100 years; the foundation of the first line was laid by the Germans under the Ottoman Empire in 1912. That line, connecting Baghdad with the town of Dujail, 60 kilometers to the north, was completed in 1914.
     
    The network has been neglected during the past several decades of political and economic turmoil. The country has only two working passenger trains at present, and officials in the state-run railway company admit that the volumes of passengers and freight which it carries do not generate enough income to cover employees' salaries, let alone revamp the network.
     
    That leaves Iraq with little public transport connecting regions of the fractious country. Most people rely on minibuses and taxis to make national journeys, which can be expensive and dangerous on poorly maintained roads.
     
    "Our passengers have a right to complain because when they go abroad and see modern trains with new and developed technology, while our lines are the same old thing, they say 'I want our trains to be like the rest of the world,'" said Hadi Ali, manager of the train station in central Baghdad.
     
    Plans gain pace

    Plans to revive the rail system are gaining pace along with the country's oil boom and general reconstruction. If successful, this could not only have economic benefits by facilitating trade and domestic tourism, but by making travel easier, maybe even contribute to the country's political unity.
     
    Last year the railway company finished building a 32-kilometer line between Mussayab, south of Baghdad, and the holy city of Kerbala to transfer hundreds of thousands of pilgrims during Shi'ite religious festivals.
     
    It is also building a new railway parallel to the old Baghdad-Basra line at a cost of about $700 million; the line is due to be in service by the end of this year. Currently only around 250 passengers travel on Iraq's railways on most days, but when the new Baghdad-Basra line is finished, the number could jump to between 2,000 and 3,000, officials say.
     
    A line connecting Baghdad with the northern city of Mosul is still out of service, but transport officials hope to begin renovating it next year. Last year Iraq signed a deal to import 10 trains from China, each carrying up to 450 passengers and running as fast as 140-160 km/hour, for $115 million.
     
    Passengers walk beside a train in a the rail station in Baghdad, May 6, 2013.Passengers walk beside a train in a the rail station in Baghdad, May 6, 2013.
    x
    Passengers walk beside a train in a the rail station in Baghdad, May 6, 2013.
    Passengers walk beside a train in a the rail station in Baghdad, May 6, 2013.
    Iraq currently has about 2,000 kilometers of railway lines and hopes eventually to increase this to 10,000 kilometers of dual-track railways, with electrified trains running at up to 200-250 kilometers an hour that would connect all major Iraqi cities with neighboring countries.
     
    Mohammed Ali Hashem, manager of the projects department in the railway company, said the goal was to unload goods from Asia at southern Iraqi ports and transport them through the northern Iraqi city of Zakho into Europe via Turkey.
     
    "So instead of a long trip to the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea, through Iraq it will take 24 hours," he said. "Iraq will become a transit point for goods transfer."
     
    Hashem envisions around 25 million tons of goods passing through Iraq annually once the rail projects are completed at an estimated cost of more than $60 billion over five years.
     
    Obstacles

    For now, such visions face formidable obstacles. One is financing; just $175 million has been allocated by the government for projects by Iraq's railway company this year.
     
    Hashem said there were two options for financing projects: annual allocations from the government, and effectively borrowing money from companies hired to perform infrastructure work — the firms would be paid under a staggered schedule. The staggered payment model would require passage of an infrastructure law by Iraq's parliament, however, and this has been delayed for several years by political wrangling. It is not clear when it might be passed.
     
    Khudhair Abbas, deputy head of another transport projects company run by the transport ministry, said Iraqi railways were not yet attractive to foreign investors because they would not be profitable until the country's southern port of Grand Faw was built, which would take years.
     
    In the long term, Iraq may be able to find the money for its railways; the International Monetary Fund expects its oil exports to expand to $152 billion in 2018 from $94 billion last year, swelling government coffers.
     
    But there are other problems. Talib Kadhim, head of the operations and transport department in the railway company, said many traders preferred to move their goods via private motor transport firms, even though that was more expensive, because the firms offered door-to-door services and train stations were far from the city centers.
     
    Security is still a concern. Recent talks with a foreign company to transfer crude oil by rail to Akashat, near the Jordanian border, for shipment abroad were scuppered by the increasingly volatile situation in the western province of Anbar, bordering Syria.
     
    "When stability is achieved, transportation in general will increase in the country," said Kadhim.
     
    In the Baghdad station hall, ticket booths remain shut with the exception of the window for the Baghdad-Basra line, where a small whiteboard shows train times and ticket prices written in a red marker.
     
    "I have a lot of memories of the trains in the 1960s when I was a kid," said Emad Maki, 54, an unemployed man who was travelling to Basra with his wife and four children to offer condolences for the death of a relative.
     
    "I wish our trains were like the ones in Europe. It is difficult to achieve but I am sure things will be better if there is determination. If we achieve 50 percent of what others have, that will be good."

    You May Like

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    IS Use of Social Media to Recruit, Radicalize Still a Top Threat to US

    Despite military gains against IS in Iraq and Syria, their internet propaganda still commands an audience; US officials see 'the most complex challenge that the federal government and industry face'

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora