Tue, Sep 11, 2018 - Page 13 News List

All aboard, cautiously

The railway between Baghdad and Fallujah has been revived after being closed for years due to Islamic State occupation

AFP, FALLUJAH, Iraq

Iraq has 2,000km of railways and its network was connected to Istanbul in 1940.

The country plans a major revival of its network.

For now, the line between Baghdad and Akashat on the Syrian border only works as far as Fallujah, says Taleb Jawad Kazem, deputy director general of Iraq’s railways. But the lines to Basra at the southern tip of the country, and to the Shiite holy city of Karbala in central Iraq, never stopped operating. And work is under way to reopen the links to Baiji, Tikrit and Samarra to the north of Baghdad, adds Kazem. In 2016, Iraq spent US$137 million on 12 new trains from China.

But there is a long way to go before the network can host the 72 daily train journeys that were made in the heyday of Iraq’s railways, before the UN slapped sanctions on the country in the 1990s. Enormous work will be required to ensure trains once again reach Syria — or even Mosul, Iraq’s second city and another former IS stronghold.

“The rails, stations, equipment, bridges and tunnels have sustained damage of more than 90 percent” in areas where the jihadists operated, Kazem says. And on the rehabilitated routes, another danger lurks — demoralized children from slums built close to the tracks.

As each train passes, small groups of boys throw stones, chipping the windows.

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