Plans to revive Iraq's rail system are gaining pace, reports Reuters.
Last year the railway company opened a 32-km line between Mussayab [Musayyib, Musayyab], south of Baghdad, and the holy city of Kerbala to transfer hundreds of thousands of pilgrims during Shi'ite religious festivals.
It is also building a new railway parallel to the old Baghdad-Basra line at a cost of about $700 million; the line is due to be in service by the end of this year.
Currently only around 250 passengers travel on Iraq's railways on most days, but when the new Baghdad-Basra line is finished, the number could jump to between 2,000 and 3,000, officials say.
A line connecting Baghdad with Mosul is still out of service, but according to the report, transport officials hope to begin renovating it next year.
In December, Iraqi Railways signed a $115-million contract to import ten trains from China, each carrying up to 450 passengers and running at up to 140-160 km/hr.
Iraq currently has about 2,000 km of railway lines and hopes eventually to increase this to 10,000 km of dual-track railways, with electrified trains running at up to 200-250 km/hour that would connect all major Iraqi cities with neighbouring countries.
Mohammed Ali Hashem, manager of the projects department in the railway company, said the goal was to unload goods from Asia at southern Iraqi ports and transport them through the northern Iraqi city of Zakho into Europe via Turkey, avoiding the Suez canal.
He envisions around 25 million tonnes of goods passing through Iraq annually once the rail projects are completed at an estimated cost of more than $60 billion over five years.