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Thu 7 Aug 2003 04:00 AM

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Iraqi roads and rail on the fast track

Despite the ongoing tensions in Iraq, the country is moving forward in terms of rebuilding the transport networks, with the road and rail network at the forefront of its plans.

Despite the ongoing tensions in Iraq, the country is moving forward in terms of rebuilding the transport networks, with the road and rail network at the forefront of its plans.The resumption of the Iraqi Syrian railway at the end of July has been applauded by the Coalition Provisional Authority, while good progress has been made by Bechtel, the recipient of USAID’s Iraq Civil Infrastructure Reconstruction contract on the Al-Mat Bypass.Although the relationship between Iraq’s interim government and neighbouring country Syria has been clouded by recent events in Iraq, this hasn’t stopped the Iraqi-Syrian railway resuming service between the two countries.The first train to travel the route between Rabiyah, a border town and Baghdad left the station on Wednesday, July 30th, 2003. Operations were renewed under the administration of the US Army, the official supervisors of Iraq’s northern region, reported the AFP. The 101st Airborne Division on reparations in the region has invested some $1.4 million. Spokesperson Captain Pat Costello explained the funding for the project had come from Iraqi assets frozen after the Gulf War. Payouts from the funds are released on a diminutive basis and are used to hire local contractors.According to the US-led CPA, the train includes mainly oil tanker cars and several passenger cars. The cars are expected to allow Iraq's petroleum industry to increase refinery output by one-third. “They are important for us here in Iraq because they will significantly raise ability to move crude around the country and particularly to get crude oil to the refineries," said a spokesperson for the coalition.Meanwhile as part of the road-rebuilding programme, Bechtel has finished its first infrastructure project, a four-lane bridge bypass, with the help of an Iraqi firm, Al-Bunnia Trading Company, the lead subcontractor on the project.The completion of the bypass is the first step in repairing the Al-Mat Bridge, which was damaged in the recent conflict. The bridge is an important link of Highway 10, a major thoroughfare between Jordan and Baghdad.Bechtel subcontracted the work on the Al-Mat bypass to an Iraqi firm, the Al-Bunnia Trading Company of Baghdad. Bechtel managers supervised the construction of the three kilometer-long bypass, while Al-Bunnia employed about 50 of the company's engineers and field employees. Bechtel expects that more than 50 percent of its work in Iraq will be subcontracted to qualified Iraqi companies with the labour and expertise to carry out critical infrastructure projects. "The successful completion of the Al-Mat bypass in less than a month is an important step in rebuilding Iraq," said Andrew Natsios, administrator of USAID. "Not only will the bypass improve transportation in the country, but also the participation of an Iraqi firm in the process demonstrates the leadership role Iraqis will continue to have in building their own future."

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