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Iraq Railroads

Iraq Railroad Map 1930Iraq has a geographic advantage to turn it into a hub for moving cargo from the port at Umm Qasr to Turkey, Syria and Jordan. Both the Turkish and Syrian railroads are con-nected to the Iraqi railroad system throughKurdish territory. This gives Iraqi Kurdistan agreat advantage to deal with the governmentsof Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The rail lines themselves are in good repair and Iraq has experienced operators for running the trains. Trucks are more efficient with short-haul and trains are more efficient with the long haul.

Iraq is considered a pioneer in the region in using railroads for transportation; the first train was put in operation in June 1914 and an extensive rail network covers vast portions of the country today. Early on, the railroad network was heavily used to transport passengers and cargo. However, as the road network grew, a large share of railroad transport moved to road transport, particularly cargo. Iraq possessed two separate railroads at independence, one standard gauge [S.G.] and one meter gauge [M.G.]. The standard gauge line ran north from Baghdad through Mosul to the Syrian border and to an eventual connection with the Turkish railroad system, and the meter gauge line ran south from Baghdad to Basra. Because the two systems were incompatible, until the 1960s cargo had to be transloaded at Baghdad to be transported between the two halves of the country.

In the 1960s, development plans converted metric railroads to standard railroads. The Soviet Union helped extend the standard gauge system to Basra, and by 1977 fully 1,129 kilometers of Iraq's 1,589 kilometers of railroad were standard gauge. In the 1970s and 1980s, national development plans included construction of a number of high quality railroads such as the Baghdad–Al-Qaim–Akashat project to connect the phosphate and fertilizer production center with Iraqi ports in Basrah; the Kirkuk–Biji–Haditha project; and part of the Mussayib–Karbala–Najaf–Samawah arc line. This period also saw a large number of locomotives, passenger trains, and cargo trains imported. Development plans also included preparing designs for strategic mega-projects such as the circular Baghdad–Cote–Ammara–Basrah railroad line, the Baghdad–Bagouba–Kirkuk– Erbil–Mosul railroad line, the Mussayib–Karbala–Najaf–Samawah arc line, the Mosul–Zakho railroad line, and others.

By 1985 the total length of railroad lines had been extended to 2,029 kilometers, of which 1,496 kilometers were standard gauge. In 1985 the railroads were being traveled by 440 standard-gauge locomotives that moved 1.25 billion tons of freight per kilometer. A 252-kilometer line linking Kirkuk and Al Hadithah was completed by contractors from the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in 1987 after five years of work. Built at a cost of US$855 million, the line was designed to carry more than 1 million passengers and more than 3 million tons of freight annually. The system included maintenance and control centers and more than thirty bridges crossing the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. By the end of the 20th century, Iraq had planned to triple the line's passenger capacity and to double its freight capacity. A 550-kilometer line, built by a Brazilian company and extending from Baghdad to Qusaybah on the Syrian border, was also opened in the same year.

In 1987 Indian contractors were finishing work on a line between Al Musayyib and Samarra. Iraqi plans also called for replacing the entire stretch of railroad between Mosul and Basra with modern, high-speed track, feeding all lines entering Baghdad into a 112-kilometer loop around the city, and improving bridges, freight terminals, and passenger stations. In addition, Iraq has conducted intermittent negotiations over the years with Turkey, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia concerning the establishment of rail links to complete a continuous Europe-Persian Gulf railroad route.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s the Iraqi Republic Railway was a key component of the Iraqi economy, moving vast amounts of oil, grain, cement and steel as well as Saddam Hussein’s military effortlessly. However, the war with Iran, U.N. sanctions, and U.S. invasion took a heavy toll on the railway. The destruction of an Iraqi railroad repair factory (strategic attack) during the Gulf War might have prevented the Iraqis from quickly moving two Republican Guards divisions on railcars south (interdiction) toward Kuwait in October of 1994. But in 2003 U.S. and coalition battle plans deliberately avoided destruction of Iraq's railroad system to ensure it would be ready for use after hostilities.

Iraq Railroad Map 2002Getting the Iraqi railroad up and running after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime allowed not only for the distribution of some military supplies, but more importantly distribution of humanitarian relief supplies. By 2003, Iraqi railways had been torn apart by decades of neglect and recent sectarian violence. With bridges and signaling in disarray and no reliable means of communication among trains or between trains and stations, instructions for train movements were often delivered by taxi. This situation contributed to several head-on collisions and severely limited the number of trains that could operate with any degree of safety. Resumption of normal railway service is regarded as an economic necessity in Iraq, supporting international commerce. With its potential to transport massive amounts of cargo, stimulate the economy, provide employment, and improve the quality of life of Iraqi citizens, it was easy to identify a fully functioning railway system as an important component of an Iraqi recovery.

In April 2003 the first train to Basra arrived in Iraq's second city. British troops hoped to use the 68 km long railway to transport much-needed aid supplies from the port town of Umm Qasr to Basra. By 2003, Iraqi railways had been torn apart. With bridges and signaling in disarray and no reliable means of communication between trains and stations or among trains, instructions for trains' movements were often delivered by taxi. This situation contributed to several headon accidents and severely limited the number of trains that could operate with any degree of safety. Resumption of normal railway service is an economic necessity supporting international commerce and exchange in Iraq.

The Iraq Republic Railroad (IRR) is a publicly owned and operated railroad that is over 1200 miles long and extends from the port of UmQasr to Baghdad, then splits toward Syria and Turkey. This rail network not only links the port to the interior of Iraq but also connects Iraq’s commerce with Turkey. However, there were two major issues with the railroad. The first one is the overall maintenance condition of the line and the other is the low traffic levels of about 4-6 trains per day at a speed of about 19 miles per hour because of the lack of train tracking and control.

In 2008, Iraq’s railroad lines totaled 2,295 km, of which 1,901 km were main lines, and 394 km were secondary lines. The number of locomotives in operation was 106, down from the 494 originally constructed. There were 43 transfer locomotives, down from the original 145, 65 passenger cars out of the original 250, and 2,460 cargo transport trucks out of the original 10,266. In 2008, the total number of passengers was 107,000, and the total weight of cargo transported was 257,000 tons.

Providing a system to dispatch, control, and track trains was a top priority; it had become clear that conventional signaling was not a realistic option, and a decision was made to pursue installation of a state-of-the-art Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) system. The system requires use of a digital microwave radio communications network (DMRCN) consisting of microwave radio base stations, transmission towers, telecommunications equipment shelters, and auxiliary power systems. By midsummer of 2008, 27 of the 33 microwave towers had been constructed, and 20 communication shelters were being installed and the microwave alignment verified. The project was scheduled for completion in the fall of 2008. When completed, the IRR will host the longest CBTC/microwave-based control system in the world, providing computer-aided dispatching of trains from the Central Control Office in Baghdad.

By 2009 the Iraqi Republic Railway was perhaps the largest and most important strategic distribution mode in Iraq. Approximately 2,400 kilometers of track exist throughout Iraq which are divided into four regions. Once functioning to standard, the railway will provide the engine for the growth of international distribution that will allow Iraq to assume its rightful place as a pivotal point in world- wide supply chains. The uniting thread, for all of Iraq’s distribution, needs to be the central theme of intermodality.

There are many challenges to Iraq’s intermodal network. By 2009, the principle means for transporting goods was by truck with limited rail, air and port capability. There existed minimal intermodal shipment of materials and a great portion of the infrastructure has deteriorated due to lack of maintenance and damage by hostile action. The distribution system is not being loaded by manufacturing or export trade and the transportation system, even with the communications sector included, accounts for just four percent of the GDP.

The Iraqi Republic Railway, which should be the heavy hauler in Iraq, had problems with the security of its facilities and employees. This in turn reduced the available work force and retarded the repair of the track systems. The bright spot is the fact that the Iraqi Republic Railway does have plans and the knowledge to solve the rail’s problems and build new capabilities as well. Unfortunately, security considerations and a lack of maintenance budgets coupled with low revenues from current reduced operations leave the Iraqi Republic Railway without the resources needed to get started on the path to success.

Rail is a relatively safe mode of transportation in Iraq with attacks less than 0.6 percent of movements (in 2008 the Iraqi Republic Railway had over 7,000 movements and only six incidents of attack). The consistent and safe use of rail will build confidence in the Iraqi Republic Railway, stimulate economic growth, and ultimately lead to confidence in the Government of Iraq. The strategic end state for railroad in Iraq is the distribution backbone of bulk commodities augmenting pipelines in oil and finished petroleum products distribution. The railroad will provide the intermodal link to the land-bridge or “dry channel” which will move material from the Mediterranean across Syria and Iraq to the Arabian Sea. This serves to posture Iraq as a strategic distribution player in the transport of goods between Europe and the Orient by paralleling the Suez Canal and adding value and capacity to the world marketplace. However, the existing infrastructure, if completely functional would not support the increasing needs of a modernized Iraq.

The ports serve as the road and rail link to the world, opening the entire distribution network to the world economic stage. Iraq’s unique geographical placement provides for the use of the “dry channel” from the Mediterranean (through Iraq’s partners in Turkey and Syria) across Iraq’s maturing distribution network and out through the Persian Gulf to the world supply chains. In addition to its oil wealth, Iraq can create value for itself and others by practicing its century’s old capability to move traded items to market across its land.

Iraqi national distribution capability took a big step forward 12 February 2009 as the Iraqi Railroad successfully picked up cargo from Iraqi Transportation Network trucks at Camp Taji and moved it to the Port of Umm Qasr. The rail spur at Taji opened for cargo movement for the first time since 2004. A 20-car IRR train owned and operated by the Government of Iraq picked up 40 empty containers for movement to the port of Umm Qasr. The operation was an important step in an effort to linking Iraqi trucking, Iraqi rail, and Iraqi port operations.

The transportation network connecting East Asia and Europe can be integrated only by passing through Iraq. This will require the country to upgrade its railroad network in particular, and its transportation infrastructure throughout, as rail is the most suitable and economical mode of long-distance transportation, irrespective of whether Iraq wants cargo to go through its own ports or those of neighboring countries.

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Page last modified: 10-01-2012 19:20:54 ZULU