Syria invites Russia to build railway to Palmyra deposits

During a bilateral meeting of Syrian and Russian diplomats and officials which took place last week in Sochi as part of the Syrian-Russian Intergovernmental Commission, Syria approached Russian Railways (RZD) and other Russian companies with several projects to develop Syria’s transport infrastructure, as stated by Najib Faris, director of Syria’s railway department, RBC news agency reports.

“We offered the company RZD a project to reestablish the railway traffic line from Tartus, through Homs, to the phosphate mines,” he said. RZD is actually investigating Syria’s proposals concerning the infrastructural projects, a source in RZD told RBC, without giving any specifics regarding the contents of the proposals.

This would involve the restoration of a 290 km long railway line connecting the Syrian coast to the phosphate deposits in the east of the country. According to Faris, this is now one of the most important transport projects in Syria, and this line is necessitated by the increase in cargo loads in this direction. This stretch of the railway may one day be connected to Iraq’s railway system, he added.

As part of the Intergovernmental Commission session, Syrian Minister of Transport Ali Hammoud met privately with RZD vice president Alexander Misharin, a representative of the Syrian Transport Ministry told RBC, and this was confirmed by a source in RZD. Hammoud also told the Syrian newspaper Al-Watan that during the session in Sochi the matter of restoring the railway line between the coast and the phosphate deposits was discussed.

On flat terrain, a railway line costs $5-8 million per kilometer, observed Vladimir Savchuk, deputy CEO of the Institute of Natural Monopolies Research. However, under mountainous conditions, the cost grows to $10-20 million per kilometer due to the construction of artificial buildings which need to be considered separately, he added. Thus a 290 km stretch could cost $1.45-2.3 billion.

Mudar al-Aaraj, railway director in Tartus (which has a sea port), told RBC that agreements were achieved in Sochi regarding the general terms for the development of the transport system, including the ports and railway lines, but no contracts have been signed yet.  According to him, aside from the construction of a line to the phosphate deposits, they also discussed projects relating to suburban transport in Damascus, as well as the modernization of locomotives and carriages. “Colleagues from RZD and other companies are currently investigating the issue. We have agreed to send them all the information necessary for the projects, in particular for the railway line project. In turn, we will be expecting their comments on the project,” Faris added.

A representative of RZD International who works on RZD’s international projects told RBC that the company does not currently have any projects in Syria. RZD’s press service refused to give any comments.

Earlier, with reference to the Syrian General Establishment of Geology and Mineral Resources, RBC wrote that the Russian company Stroytransgaz, controlled by Volga Group owner Gennady Timchenko, is working on two phosphate deposits in Syria – Al-Sharqiyah (or As-Sawwanah) and Khunayfis, which are 45 and 60 km south-west of Palmyra respectively. Both deposits are roughly 300 km from Tartus. Previously their total annual production reached 3.5 million tons, of which 3 million were exported, and the rest was taken to a fertilizer factory in Homs. Mining ceased on May 21, 2015, after these territories were captured by the Islamic State.

  Syria, Palmyra, Russia, Russian Railways