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Iraq seeks investors for rail projects in Baghdad and beyond

Iraq is planning a rail project to serve the population of Baghdad, which is expected to grow by a million by 2030 Reuters
Iraq is planning a rail project to serve the population of Baghdad, which is expected to grow by a million by 2030
  • Iraq plans two rail routes
  • Current network of 115 stations
  • Metros can return 4 times investment

Iraq is seeking investors for two major rail projects including a seven-line metro system to serve Baghdad’s growing population.

The National Investment Commission (NIC) has issued International Investment Opportunity documents for Baghdad metro and phase one of a 90km four-station railway linking Najaf International Airport with Karbala city centre.

Investors have until April 11 to submit their bids, which must include a funding plan and a timetable for project completion.

“Due to the increasing growth rate in Baghdad’s population, and the daily trips of travellers from other governorates for various purposes, the need has emerged for a safe, large-scale and advanced means of transportation,” the NIC said.

The Baghdad metro will be electrically powered and unmanned. It will have 64 stations spanning 150km of lines, both under and above ground. Workshops, depots for trains and two control centres are also part of the project. 

The NIC said the Najaf-Karbala project was needed because of the “increasing importance” that pilgrims put on visiting the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.

The project is expected to reduce the travel time between the two cities to 20 minutes and transport up to 25,000 passengers per hour on elevated bridges at speeds of up to 240 km/hour.

Iraqi train services currently only operate a handful of lines, including slow oil freight and a single overnight passenger train that trundles from Baghdad to Basra, taking up to 12 hours to cover 500km.

The state-owned Iraq Republic Railways Co said Iraq’s rail network consists of 2,000km of track and 115 stations.

In November 2023 transport minister Razzak Al-Saadawi was quoted by local media as saying that 30 train stations would be built as part of a $17 billion rail and parallel motorway project stretching 1,200km from the country’s southern tip to the northern border with Turkey.

Work also started last year on the Basra to Shalamcheh railway to link Iraq and Iran and cater to the 3-4 million Iranians who visit holy shrines in Iraq each year.

Growing population

Baghdad’s population is just under 8 million and is projected to grow by more than a million before the end of the decade, according to the World Population Review.

Last year consultants Strategy& Middle East said large-scale metro system could generate three to four times the cost of investment,.

They are an increasingly popular mode of public transport in the Middle East. Dubai, Riyadh and Cairo all recently announced expansion plans, while studies on a proposed $2.6 billion Muscat project are expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Iraq is a difficult investment environment. Corruption remains commonplace and the country ranked 157 out of 180 in Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perception Index.

The World Bank estimates that FDI inflows into Iraq accounted for less than 0.4 percent of GDP in the first half of 2022, as a result of political uncertainty and security challenges.

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