Transport Ministry lays out rail ambitions

26 May 2006

The Ministry of Transport (MoT) has drawn up plans to add 2,300 kilometres of railway across the country to the existing 2,600-kilometre network. Among the projects it is studying are two lines linking the Syrian and Iranian borders.

The largest project, valued at about $200 million, centres on the completion of a link between Al-Qaim and Deir al-Zor in Syria. A 30-kilometre stretch was completed on the Syrian side before the war. The Iraqi element would comprise about 120 kilometres.

The second project, estimated at $70 million, will run from the Najaf to the Iranian border town of Shalamcheh. The 35-kilometre project will take about three years to complete. A separate link is also planned between the border town and Basra. The scheme aims to cater primarily to religious tourists, who provide the second highest source of revenue after oil exports.

'Turkish, Iranian and Syrian companies are interested in the projects, but they are not active enough,' says deputy transportation minister Atta Nabeil. 'We are open to foreign investment and would prefer joint ventures, but we are open to all ideas.'

The ministry is also planning to appoint consultants for two other new lines. International firms have until 23 May to submit bids to update designs for the construction of the Mosul-Zakho line in the north. Tenders were also due in by mid-May for similar consulting work on the proposed Kirkuk-Sulaimaniyah line.

'What we'd like to do is activate by rail the links Iran-Iraq-Syria and Iraq-Turkey-Europe and also we want to link the Gulf area with the Mediterranean,' says Nabeil. The MoT is hoping to reactivate the construction of the Baghdad Metro. Over the last year, it has been in negotiations with a team of the UK's Halcrow, Switzerland's Electrowatt and Germany's Dorsch Consult to carry out a new feasibility study.

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