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A report by theloadsta website, which specializes in the field of shipping, stated that Iraq's ambitious plans to complete the large port of Faw may compete with other Middle Eastern ports, and even the Suez Canal, if railways were developed and freight was shipped to Turkey and then to Europe.
The report, which was translated by "Economy News", quoted the director of the Iraqi Railways Company, Talib Jawad Al-Hasani, as saying, "Iraq is working on a project to maximize the benefit from our geographical location and serve merchants who wish to transport goods through Iraq to other countries via Turkey, once the Grand Port of Faw is completed. ".
He added, "We are working with an Italian company to conduct studies for a 1,200-kilometre railway line to the Turkish border that could provide transit transportation from Al-Faw, providing an alternative to the Suez Canal for goods traveling between East Asia and Europe." The works were expected to be carried out by Italian, Chinese and Iraqi companies.
Italian engineering services firm PEG is expected to submit feasibility studies and designs for the "dry canal" - a series of road and rail networks connecting the new port to Turkey - by the end of this year, according to the transport ministry.
The idea of a huge port on Iraq's southernmost peninsula of Faw, where the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab river enters the Persian Gulf, has been mooted for decades, but it wasn't until 2010 that a concrete proposal emerged. Work eventually began in 2020, after the South Korea's Daewoo Engineering has won a port contract worth $2.7 billion.
Some preliminary construction work has been completed, with FAO's Guinness World Record for longest breakwater (9.02 miles) taken down, and last month the General Company for Ports of Iraq (GCPI) announced the start of piling work for five container berths.
The project is designed for up to 100 berths, which, if achieved, would see the Faw area overtake Jebel Ali Port in Dubai, with its berth of 67, as the largest in the Middle East.
According to the Global Construction Review, by 2028, FAO is expected to be able to handle around 4 million TEUs and 22 million tons of dry bulk cargo, and this is expected to reach 7.5 million TEUs by 2038.
However, a source in Umm Qasr estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 trucks leave the port each day, meaning that the IRR's scattered rail services were a negligible part of the current container traffic market.
"In order to effectively recharge in the future, Iraq will need several freight trains operating every day, each carrying 100 TEUs, not 40," he said.
This would currently be a difficult task. The Iraqi Railways Company relies on aging infrastructure, some northern parts of which were severely damaged under ISIS.
Infrastructure challenges between Baghdad and Basra include tracks crossing busy main roads where, with no barriers or warning lights, trains have to slow to a crawl relying on motorists to notice and stop.
Rail relocation, especially on the scale envisaged by FAO as the Iraqi Railways plans to build five additional stations, will not only require significant investment, but will also be a radical new direction for the company, changing its long-standing focus on hydrocarbons.
There are currently 38 train stations in and around Umm Qasr (27 in the northern ports and 11 in the south). IRR is also expanding routes to the Basra Gateway Terminal (BGT) East, which was built and operated by International Container Terminal Services (ICTSI), which has reached the terminal's fringes.
Despite Iraqi officials' optimism about the potential of the grand port of Faw, the project has been criticized as "too ambitious". The work has been marred by delays, and the suspicious death of the South Korean project's head in 2020, with allegations that FAO is mired in political rivalry, corruption and contract disputes over subsequent construction phases, with the entire project expected to run at $7 billion.
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