Seriously excited to hear that plans to expand the rail network in Jordan have been approved. According to news reports, the Amman-Zarqa light railway project has been announced by the transport minister who also told employees of the Aqaba Railway Corporation that technical and environmental studies related to the project have been completed. The railway tracks will stretch across 950 kilometres and connect Jordan with Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It also believed that the project will save the Jordanian treasury around JD 219 million annually.
Taher Investment Group Chairman Fathi Taher told Petra News that about 95,000 cars travel between the two cities and so a railway network would help ease traffic jams. He also added that around two thousand people would be employed during the construction and another 300 people to operate the railway network at a later stage.
The planned Aqaba-Amman rail network is expected to transform transport in the region and will carry cargo and then passengers at a later stage. It will link the Red Sea port of Aqaba to Syria via Amman and link the country to Saudi Arabia and Iraq via stations at northern Jordanian cities such as Irbid.
Transport Minister Alaa Batayneh confirmed that the cost of the National Railway Network would be around JD 2.8 billion. He also added that the Jordanian government are now working on securing financing for the scheme’s infrastructure through the international private sector- particular in countries such as China and the Gulf.
The Gulf has seen some impressive railway projects in recent times including the Mekkah Metro project which aims to reduce the congestion during the busy Hajj season. Indeed, Jordan has about 507 kilometres of track itself dating back to the Ottoman period in the 1900’s. The Hijaz Railway project was initiated under the Ottoman Empire to help pilgrims get from Syria through Jordan to Mecca/Medina for Hajj.
Donations were collected from around the world- some say up to twenty five million Ottoman gold liras- but the project was never completed due to the outbreak of World War One and the subsequent collapse of the Ottoman Empire. According to a report by the Jordan Times, the track was designed by German engineers and cut down the journey pilgrims would have to make from a couple of weeks by camel caravan to just 52 hours on train.
Today, the Hijaz railway (usually) runs on a weekly basis between Amman and Damascus but the service is so irregular that you have to buy tickets on the day. When I was last in Jordan in 2008, the trains weren’t running but I have heard that they are now operating on a weekly basis.
Global Arab Network explained that the Jordanian initiative is part of a wider regional expansion of the rail network. Across the Middle East and North Africa region, 33,000 kilometres of rail tracks are currently planned which would almost double the existing network rail. A ‘MENA Rail Report 2011’, found that more than $250 billion of planned investment had been committed by governments and rail operators in the region.
:: Image via Xavi Talleda/ Flickr.
For more on trains and railways in the Middle East see: