With its southern neighbours in the Arabian peninsula investing heavily in their own rail infrastructure, Syria does not want to be left behind. Sitting on the crossroads between the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf, and Turkey and Arabia, Syria plans to make the most of its central geographical position.

The country is spending about $1bn over the next decade to develop a comprehensive and efficient railway network to increase the flow of trade.

While some of the planned railway lines are aimed at transporting passengers to and from the main urban centres of Damascus and Aleppo, the focus of the upgrade programme is to facilitate trade in the region. The other new and upgraded lines will serve the dry ports and transport phosphate from Syria’s mines to fertiliser plants, and then on to the ports of Tartous and Baniyas for export.

If the network is completed as scheduled in 2020, Syria’s railway will form an integral link between the Gulf markets and Europe. Goods entering the Gulf will be able to be transported up through Syria and on to Turkey and Europe without using the traditional, lengthy route of sailing around the Arabian peninsula and up through the Suez Canal.

If Syria and its neighbours can build their railway networks effectively, they will redefine trade routes serving the Gulf.