Three people were killed and 19 injured in a bomb attack Friday morning in Baghdad. More than 10,000 Shia loyal to Moktada al-Sadr hanged President Bush in effigy to protest the government’s security agreement with the United States. And the Baghdad Metro was running on schedule.
The invasion of Iraq and resulting anarchy halted all train service in the country. Bombings, robberies, and literally beheadings of conductors put the country’s rail system in mothballs. Through 2007, only one line had been re-opened: a 13-hour passenger service from Baghdad to Basra.
In October 2008, service resumed on a 15 mile, two-hour round-trip around downtown Baghdad:
If you’re wondering why anyone would ride a 7 mile per hour train, consider the Baghdad traffic:
Considering the traffic checkpoints, military vehicles, and streets closed by bombings, a train ride is not a bad alternative. The green, 1980s-vintage passenger cars remain mostly empty though, because, as the L.A. Times reports, “Few people seem to know it exists.” Currently, the train makes only two trips a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. Riders are greeted by AK-wielding armed guards, who fire into the air to chase off kids throwing stones or more serious threats. One guard jokes, “We’re out of bullets by the end of each trip.”
Baghdad Mayor Sabir al-Issawi has bigger plans. The city is preparing a feasibility study, backed by up to $3 billion from Parliament, for a 24-mile underground system with 40 stations crisscrossing both Sunni and Shia neighborhoods. The city had actually planned an underground system as far back as the 1970s, but the project was shelved due to the Iran-Iraq War and had not since been revisited. With the disco-era plans being updated to contemporary engineering standards, Transportation Ministry officials hope to begin construction as early as next year (!)
If it sounds crazy, considering the city still lacks reliable electricity and water treatment, it just might be. But it’s also an optimistic, big-think idea in a country that desperately needs them. “Look at it,” said one Iraqi, gesturing at choked-up roundabout: “Even if this is just talking, at least it’s giving us hope.”