Jordan railway project: better late than never

Hejaz Railway locomotive Wadi Rum Station
The Hejaz Railway locomotive is seen at the Wadi Rum Station, in Wadi Rum, Jordan, in this undated photo. (Photo: shutterstock)
AMMAN — Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh revealed last week that the government was looking into a major railway project in Jordan and was in contact with companies interested in the initiative. اضافة اعلان

Historically, passing through Jordan is the Hijazi railroad which extends from the Jordan-Syria border in the north to the Saudi border in the south passing through Zarqa, Amman and Maan. It was built by the Ottoman Empire in 1908 and is currently not in service. 

The Aqaba Railroad was established in 1975 for the purpose of transporting phosphates. 

The most recently proposed railway project includes a railway link between port city of Aqaba and the Maddouneh dry port in Amman to transport goods, with plans to then expand regionally to connect the Kingdom to its neighbors.

“This project has been under review for more than 10 years; it has direction and an economic benefit but there are no finalized plans,” former minister of transport Lina Shbeeb said in an interview with Jordan News.

In order for the project to move forward, Shbeeb believes that there needs to be commitment and thorough planning to attract investment. 

“The government does not have the ability to fund the whole project, so it is likely that the private sector will provide funding or partner in funding,” she explained. “It must be presented and marketed in a way that is attractive to the private sector.” 

Assistant Director of Jordan Hijaz Railway Corporation Nidal Assaf told Jordan News that building a new railroad would cost an estimated two to three billion dinars, minimum. This is due to the high cost of developing the infrastructure, from materials to the construction in addition to other costs including the trains themselves.

Another challenge is the lack of local expertise on the matter. “For the planning and project design we can get help from global companies,” said Shbeeb. “But design is not all that matters; once the railway is active, we need people who are able to manage, maintain and repair the line.”

In order for the project to be economically feasible and attract these investors, it needs to focus on transporting both goods and people, and it needs to be electric, explained shipping association chairman Duraid Mahasneh in an interview with Jordan News.

“If we use electric trains within the country, that will save us from pollution, reduce gas emission and cost,” he said. “The transportation sector consumes over 45 percent of the fuel and creates around 40 percent of air pollution in Jordan.”

However, Mahasneh believes that the current proposed train route, including Aqaba, Maan and to the south of Amman does not tackle the areas with the greatest density in the country. “We should concentrate on the areas with density of population and transportation.”

Developing this project, if done correctly, will have its benefits for the country. These range from economic to safety benefits, the experts agree.

“The desert road and main roads, for example, get damaged quickly due to high pressure as we do not have alternatives,” said Shbeeb. “If we are able to develop a railroad to transport heavy loads, this will help relieve pressure on the road and reduce renovation costs.” 

Additionally, the project will provide local job opportunities, decrease transport costs for companies and reflect a positive image on the country to the region and the world, she said. “The railway capitalizes on Jordan’s strategic positioning regionally and its political stability which would then promote economic investment.” 

The experts added that the longer it takes to move forward on this project, the higher the cost will be, and it would represent a missed opportunity. 

“We are behind, railways are essential to transportation globally, they carry a greater number of people, the cost is less, and the trains are faster,” said Assaf. “We should have started this a long time ago but what matters now is to take these decisions and move forward.”

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