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Cablegate: Passenger Rail's Return Hints at Challenges And

VZCZCXRO5888
RR RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #0048/01 0070858
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 070858Z JAN 08 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5130
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
RULSDMK/DEPT OF TRANSPORTATION WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 000048

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON ELTN IZ
SUBJECT: PASSENGER RAIL'S RETURN HINTS AT CHALLENGES AND
OPPORTUNITIES

REF: 2007 BAGHDAD 2724

1. (U) SUMMARY: On December 16 the Iraqi Republic Railway
(IRR) renewed scheduled passenger service between Baghdad and
Basrah for the first time since before the 2003 invasion.
The first week of service was marred by two attacks--one
suicide bomb and one IED--and a train-automobile collision
under arguably suspicious circumstances. Security challenges
notwithstanding, the Office of the Transportation Attach
(OTA) continues to work closely with the IRR and the Ministry
of Transportation (MoT) to help them maximize the railway's
commercial potential through infrastructure improvements,
training, technical assistance, and capacity development. In
2008 several USG-funded, OTA-managed projects should enhance
the railway's capacity to serve both Iraqi and Coalition
customers. The GOI must, however, invest more in the system
and its security to solidify its role as an economic activity
enabling transportation infrastructure. END SUMMARY.

----------------------
PASSENGER RAIL RETURNS
----------------------

2. (U) On December 16 the IRR renewed scheduled passenger
service between Baghdad and Basrah for the first time since
before the 2003 invasion. The IRR now offers two trains per
day, seven days per week, on the 552 kilometer (KM) route: a
09:00 Baghdad to Basrah arriving in the evening and a 21:00
Basrah to Baghdad arriving in the morning. The trains
average 40 KMs per hour and, passengers depending, stop at
approximately 30 stations. Each train set consists of a
diesel locomotive, a power car, a sleeper, and three coaches;
the sleeper holds a maximum of 80 passengers, and each coach
holds 70. Iraqis have shown interest in the service so far,
drawn in part by the low fares. A coach ticket sells for
2400 Iraqi Dinar (ID) or approximately USD 2. The sleepers
have sold out completely, and the coaches have been
approximately 60 percent full.

----------------------------------
EXTREMISTS CHALLENGE RAIL SECURITY
----------------------------------

3. (U) Scheduled passenger rail presents an easier target for
extremists than the more irregular cargo service. Extremists
exploited this vulnerability at least twice during the first
week of passenger service. On December 19, a female suicide
bomber detonated her charge outside a coach car at a station
roughly 50 KMs south of Baghdad. The explosion killed the
attacker and derailed the car. The IRR reported no other
injuries. On December 21, an IED prematurely detonated north
of Latifiyah, killing the bomber and damaging the nearby
track. The explosion temporarily disrupted service, but
injured nobody and damaged no other IRR equipment or
facilities. In addition to these attacks, on December 23 the
southbound train collided with a minivan at a known rail
crossing near Hillah. The nature of the incident--suspicious
or merely unfortunate--is still a matter of debate. (NOTE:
The vehicle's driver had the wherewithal to flee the scene
before impact, leaving the eleven remaining occupants of the
van to die. END NOTE.) No injuries were reported on the
train.

--------------------------------------------- --------
IRR AND OTA WORKING TO UNLOCK THE NETWORK'S POTENTIAL
--------------------------------------------- --------

4. (U) OTA continues to work closely with the IRR and the MoT
to maximize the railway's commercial potential through
infrastructure improvements, training, technical assistance
and capacity development. OTA's overarching goal is to help
the IRR formulate a strategic vision for the network and
adopt and implement a business model suited to that vision.
Passenger rail is unlikely to be a significant revenue
generator for the IRR with fares so inexpensive, but the
state-run company's cargo service has greater potential.
Presently the IRR runs an average of seven cargo trains per
day. Each cargo train consists of nine container cars, and
USD 400 is a common tariff per container. Current payloads
include supplies for Iraqi and Coalition forces, heavy fuel
oil for power plants, and bulk commodities from the Port of
Umm Qasr.

5. (U) Several USG-funded, OTA-managed projects should help
the IRR serve its customers in 2008. Two related
projects--the Communications Based Train Control System
(CBTC) and the Digital Microwave Radio Communications Network
(DMRCN)--should be operational by mid-year. The CBTC is a
USD 14 million project that will modernize the IRR's
antiquated system for directing train traffic, allowing
technicians to manage the rail system from the Dispatching

BAGHDAD 00000048 002 OF 002


Department based in the Baghdad station. The USD 38 million
DMRCN is the CBTC's communications medium, comprised of 33
microwave telecommunications towers positioned along the
train routes. The IRR has selected eleven technicians to be
trained on the CBTC equipment in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the
first quarter of 2008. The technology and its Iraqi
operators should improve both efficiency and safety of the
railway network.

6. (U) But fundamental challenges remain. The light-weight
track that runs from Basrah to Baghdad to Mosul needs
replacing: it is over 60 years old and has been neglected
since the Iran-Iraq war. In addition, the IRR complains that
the Rail Police, which formerly reported to the IRR itself
but now falls under the Ministry of the Interior, are
inexperienced and ineffective. IRR employees report that
militias and criminals associated with trucking cartels
continue to threaten them.

7. (U) COMMENT: The December attacks on the passenger rail
service highlight the difficulty of securing the railway.
OTA will continue to engage the MoT and the IRR to assist
them in strategic planning, identifying priorities,
developing a sound business model, and executing contracts to
achieve their goals. But greater MoT investment in railway
security and new track will be essential to maintain and
expand its passenger and cargo services. Continued neglect
of the system will leave underutilized the railway's latent
potential to move people and goods into, out of, and through
Iraq.
CROCKER

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