Return of the Orient Express

Ahmed has good reason for concern. This is not the first time that certain Iraqi rail schedules have been revived. Services to Aleppo in Syria and Gaziantep in Turkey were both resumed over the past couple of years but have both since been discontinued.

Additionally Ahmed pointed out that in the recent past, the train to Baghdad has virtually been empty. “Sometimes there were one or two passengers on board but that’s not financially feasible,” he argues.

“That’s why the service was suspended in the first place.” Part of the reason for a reluctance to travel by train had to do with security concerns: passengers worried about being targeted by extremists and the deterioration in infrastructure since the 1970s and 80s, when rail was a major mode of goods and passenger transport, meant there was also a danger of train accidents and miscommunication to worry about.

However conditions have changed significantly and it’s possible that the time for a rail revival is ripe. The Ninawa state authorities have already allocated IQD1.5 billion (around US$100,000) to restore the Mosul train station which was damaged by a truck bomb in 2009.

Back at the rail station though, nothing much has changed for Jasim Ahmed. Not yet anyway. The 60-year-old spends most of his day in a small room next to the maintenance workshop where the old trains are queued. He still doesn’t have any work to do and to kill time, Ahmed drinks tea and smokes. Puffing on his cigarette and watching the smoke evaporate, the city’s longest serving train driver, who’s been working for the railways for 43 years, recounts the station’s glory days.

He spent much of his time driving German-made Henschel trains and he’s heard the news about the renovations: he says he’s thrilled to hear that the station will be renovated and that services will recommence.

And he’s not alone. Many other locals are also waiting to hear the train whistles again. For the living, it is a sign of their city’s recovery from violence and conflict. And for the dead, well, the authorities say they also plan to restore the statue of renowned classical musician, Othman al-Mosuli, who passed away in 1923, that stands opposite the station.

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