Baghdad Subway, 24 miles for $3 billion

Thanks to a friend in Palo Alto, we present to you plans for a Baghdad Subway. The Iraqi national cabinet has approved two lines – one 11 miles long and the other 13 – each with 20 stations, with funds providing $3 billion of the cost. This is the first mark of approval for a plan that was studied beginning last year, with the intention of dramatically reducing the insane congestion that marks life in the Iraqi capital. This article in the Guardian provides a nice overview of the project’s history.

Interestingly, it the project is based on a still-born metro that first entered construction in the 1980s with the help of American engineering group Parsons. A branch was built but trains never ran – not surprising considering the Iran-Iraq War, the subsequent American-led Gulf War, the 1990s world boycott of Iraqi goods, and the Iraq War pursued by the Americans, British, and a few Poles beginning in 2003. Just before the American invasion, Iraqis announced that they would restart the project’s construction, something that  did not occur.

You’ll find a description of the system as designed in the 1980s on “Andrew’s Page,” and a map here. (Here’s a schematic map.) The system planned then and likely to be implemented now is in a cross shape, with the two lines intersecting at the city’s core. For a city of this size (7 million inhabitants), a two-line system may be a nice start, but it will do little to reduce overall congestion; that would require a much larger intervention unlikely in such an impoverished nation.

We’re embarrassed to say we don’t know more about this project, but it comes as a surprise in this war-torn locale. It’s difficult to imagine a successful infrastructure project of this scale in a place where suicide bombings are all too frequent (though perhaps yesterday’s security accord and timeline for U.S. troop pullout will improve the situation).

That said, two obvious concerns remain:

  • One: again as pointed out by our friend from California, aren’t we talking about a huge security disaster? How can a city like Baghdad ensure the safety of a subway? Clearly, it will take years for this system to be built. One can only hope that by the time it opens, bombings are a thing of the past.
  • Two: $3 billion for a 24-mile subway system seems quite off the mark (admittedly some of the project would be built above ground). New York can hardly build two miles of subway for that much, and though the economics of third world countries are different than those of the West, a ten-fold difference in cost is unrealistic. Unless the Iraqi government is willing to put up a whole lot more dough, this baby isn’t happening.

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