Friday, February 22, 2008

Baghdad to Basra by Rail

From Reuters:

Like a stitch across a deep wound, the train between Iraq's two biggest cities reminds people of a more peaceful time before sectarian carnage nearly tore their country apart.

The service between Baghdad and Basra resumed with little fanfare in December after a hiatus of 18 months. Few dared use it at first, but word has spread of a safe and cheap journey, and railway officials are scrambling for funds for more carriages.


Passenger after passenger praised the comfort of traveling on the train compared with stopping at checkpoints on the road from Baghdad to Basra, a grueling journey of 550 km (340 miles).

"First of all, it's the cost. And it's comfortable and safe," said Um Khaled, surrounded by her children, explaining why she was happy to be making the journey.

Passengers were also thrilled about the government-subsidized price.

At 4,000 dinars ($3.33) for a seat, the trip is almost a quarter of the price of the lowest fare to Basra by public minivan, the more common form of transport. A sleeper ticket costs 10,000 dinars.

The cost of petrol has rocketed to 450 dinars per liter from about 50 dinars before the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"This is not the true ticket price, which does not cover the service cost at all. It's priced low as a service to the Iraqi people," Baghdad rail chief Mohammed Hashem said. "They're tired of going by car and constantly stopping at checkpoints."

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