The Transportation Ministry passed a significant milestone on 16 December, when passenger rail services resumed between Baghdad and Basra after a three-year break. However, wider plans are experiencing difficulties.

The programme, which would include a commuter rail line around Baghdad, is based on plans drafted in the 1980s following the Iran-Iraq War.

However, the Transportation Ministry has been unable to find financial backing for the project. “Most of the plans are already completed, the only problem is that we do not have enough finance,” says Bangen Rekani, Iraq’s acting Transport Minister. “We would like to complete these projects by 2015.”

Following the successful relaunch of the Baghdad-Basra line, Rekani is in talks with other ministries to rejuvenate other parts of the dilapidated network. The minerals railway in the west of Iraq is to be reopened in 2008 to transport cement and fertiliser to the rest of the country.

The minerals route runs from Akashat and links with the line between Baghdad and the Syrian border at Alqaim.

“Without doubt, rail is the most cost-effective method to move bulk commodities in Iraq,” says a senior policy adviser to the government. “We have budgeted $250m to get the five current lines up and running to the point where rail is competitive with the trucking industry, which dominates at the moment.”

Transport representatives are also speaking to the trade and oil ministries to bring the shipment of bulk goods and refined products onto the railways. Priority has been given to the line between Baghdad and Basra, which extends to the port of Umm Qasr.

“Baghdad to Basra will account for 60 per cent of passenger traffic, and Umm Qasr to Baghdad for 70 per cent of movement in goods and services,” says the policy adviser.

The government is also considering a high-speed line between the capital and Basra, and reopening the passenger route between Baghdad and Mosul.