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French Version

Planes, trains and shipping terminals

Jordan is stepping up its campaign to become a major transport hub for the region, with a series of infrastructure projects being launched to boost rail, sea and air links. Sharing borders with Saudi Arabia, Palestinian Territories, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Iraq as well as Israel and having a direct link to the Red Sea through the port of Aqaba, Jordan sees itself as having a future as a transit point, in part making up for the lack of natural resources that many of its neighbors have been blessed with.

With trade on the rise in the region, along with a strong increase in tourism, Amman has seen the need to upgrade its existing infrastructure and build new facilities to meet growing demand. Lat month, Hashem Masaeed, the director general of Jordan’s Public Transport Regulatory Commission, announced that a build-operate and transfer (BOT) tender for the construction of a 28 km standard gauge light railway to link Amman with the industrial city of Zarqa would be called in December, with at least six international firms having already expressed an interest. The project, with a price tag of between $120 million and $140 million, will be used to carry both commuters and freight.

With Zarqa having more than 50 percent of the country’s industrial plants, the domestic need to increase transport links has become obvious but so too is the international connection, with a number of foreign firms also looking to invest in the region. The initial line, set for completion two years after the results of the tender are announced by March, is only part of a more comprehensive network designed to link up with existing trade and transport centers, Masaeed said. “We eventually hope to extend this rail system up to the Syrian border and south to Queen Alia International Airport and also to various parts of the capital,” he said. An initial attempt to launch the project stalled in 2005 through a lack of international interest but it is hoped the proposal to expand the network in the future will attract overseas investors. A second major project that is coming close to getting off the ground is the expansion of the Queen Alia International Airport, the country’s main aviation port of entry.

In early October, the ministry of Transport announced it had come up with a short list of six consortiums to submit final bids on the $284 million contract to build a new terminal at the airport, with the result of the tender expected to be made public at the end of February. Another BOT project, the new terminal, along with other improvements, will allow the airport to rival other facilities in the region, attracting both tourists and trade to Jordan. According to Amer Hadidi, the Transport ministry’s secretary general, the planned expansion of the airport was part of the campaign drive to make Jordan a regional hub. Once completed, the Queen Alia International Airport should be able to handle around 9 million passengers annually, an almost 300 percent increase on its present capacity.

While both the upgrade of the international airport and the new rail network are both seen as vital for the plan to boost Jordan’s credentials as a transport hub, the jewel in the crown of the kingdom’s aspirations is the Red Sea port of Aqaba. In late September, the Aqaba Development Corporation (ADC), which owns the port, announced a consortium consisting of Lamnalco Group Marine and Offshore Services of the UAE and the Jordan National Shipping Lines Company (JNSL) had won a tender to restore, develop, manage and operate Aqaba’s marine services, except for the booming container operations, of the port.

The tender was just the latest in a series of projects to improve the capacity of the port and modernize its facilities and services over the past year. The port’s other activities are also being privatized as part of what ADC chairman and CEO Imad Fakhoury says is part of a 30-year master plan to increase Aqaba’s competitiveness as a regional transport and logistics hub. “The whole port has been broken into specialized terminals or business units that will be packaged and privatized according to best international practice,” Fakhoury said in statement to the media. A BOT project for a new $70 million passenger terminal to cope with increasing traffic, which passed the 1 million passenger mark in 2005, would be tendered soon, he said. In August, APM Terminals, a unit of the Danish shipping and oil group AP Moeller, won a 25-year concession to operate and develop its main container terminal, which had already benefited from a $100 million upgrade of the port’s facilities over the past two years, resulting in a 30 percent increase in container traffic. However, Jordan’s ambitions to be a transport conduit to the region face a number of hurdles.

These include the limited existing rail network being of narrow gauge, rather than the standard gauge used by most of its neighbors, fierce competition from bordering countries also seeking to tap into the growing trade potential of the Middle East and the at times volatile regional politics that can make co-operation difficult. That said, Jordan is working to put in place the infrastructure needed to attract trade and with the increasing levels of passengers and freight arriving in or passing through the country the philosophy of “if you build it they will come” appears to be a sound one.

The Star

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