Office: (44) (0) 5603 676623  |  Independent Communications Consultancy based Westminster, London SW1
Office: (44) (0) 5603 676623  |  Independent Communications Consultancy based Westminster, London SW1

Digital Communications Index: Iraqi Railways

MENA Railways Digital Communications Index: Iraq

All images on this page © Iraqi Railways unless stated. 

Introduction

To say Iraq’s railways have been battered in the past 20 years would be a cruel understatement. Iraq and its people been through hell. 

Iraqi Railways has a fleet of passenger trains for Baghdad-Basra and Fallujah

I saw some of the damage when I was there such as bombed mangled infrastructure and destroyed sand-covered track. I also witnessed some initiatives that sadly seem to be false dawns. I’m thinking of the routes into the northern and western provinces, rebuilt as freight and oil arteries then destroyed again by Daesh as they destroyed so much else in northern and western Iraq. There was the brief period of the railway freight route planned to operate from Basra to Europe via Baghdad, Syria and Turkey; one of the early non-human casualties of Syria’s devastating civil war after 2011. 

So Iraqi Railways (IRR) has survived much unhappy history and politics, and must also deal with an economy that is weakened by the low oil price. It also faces searing hot temperatures and wide temperature variations, plus fierce competition from road transport. 

Regular readers will remember I believe a country’s railway system is a handy shortcut for outsiders to understand the health and dynamics of the country as a whole. That’s because a railway system needs many sophisticated parts of a country to run together, consistently and reliably. It’s one of the reasons I’m interested in writing these reviews and I explain more about it here. 

So in Iraq I see a resilient railway system that is not just being rebuilt but also has ambitious plans for freight and passenger traffic. How is this all reflected in IRR’s digital communications? How much can anyone in the country or outside see of what IRR is doing? In this I’m pleasantly surprised, particularly at the professionalism and pride on show. So IRR scores a very creditable 6/12 in the Digital Communications Index. It is mostly in Arabic, with some English but no Kurdish. 

Iraqi Railways Homepage has some good information but is cluttered.

1-2. Is there a website and is it ‘alive’?

Yes, there is a website (here) and it is kept up to date, so score 2 points.

In fact there are two websites. The Arabic version is up-to-date but its English equivalent is a poor relation that nobody has updated since 2014. You should ignore the English website. 

As you can see from the screenshot of the Arabic Homepage, it’s very busy. Okay, it’s a cluttered mess.  IRR is an executive branch of Iraq’s Ministry of Transport, so the banner carries both names in English and Arabic. There’s a scrolling news line below that, then below that a slider for the most recent 10 posts, which then appear in fuller form underneath. This is all flanked by two sidebars with various bits and pieces, including dead links to non-railway pages. 

The Homepage also has navigation links to the Transport Ministry page (server not found), search results and the (dead) English site. The social media links don’t offer much more: they’re all dead except for the Facebook page. 

3. Is there an app?

No. There’s an undated article that advertises an app it claims you can download from Google Play and the App Store but I couldn’t find any trace of it there. 

4. Can you buy tickets online?

No, I can’t see any way to do so. 

5. Is there live running information?

No

6. Is there a Twitter account?

No

7. Is there a Facebook page?

Yes, and it’s healthy and up-to-date, so score 1 point.

IRR’s Facebook page is the proxy for its website. The Facebook page is alive and kicking, with regular posts, photos, videos, comments and shares, as well as engagement.

8. Is there a YouTube channel?

No, but…. IRR puts its videos on the Facebook videos page and it is worth visiting. Score 1 point. 

I counted 19 videos on Facebook that stretch back to 2017. Even though they are all in Arabic non-speakers would find them worth watching and self-explanatory. IRR has also clipped videos for PR purposes from media and TV stations that have run news items, interviews or programmes about Iraqi railways. There’s also a recent short publicity video about IRR from the Transport Ministry: https://www.facebook.com/iraqirailways/videos/328685348081930/

One stand-out show is ‘One of the People’, a 60-minute interview show at Baghdad Central Station from just a few weeks ago and posted on 31st May 2020. As part of a special event, reporter Ahmed al-Rakabi from Zagros Media interviewed the Transport Minister and other senior officials in the offices and on the platforms at Baghdad station. His report covers IRR’s current operations and future plans in some detail.  

9. Is there an Instagram account?

No

10. Can you subscribe to a newsletter?

There is a login on the website but, because I’m not sure where it takes you or what you get for providing your personal information, I haven’t tested it. 

Iraqi Railways staff at Samawa Station, Dhi War

11. Is there evidence of campaigns? 

Yes, so score 1 point. 

These aren’t actually branded campaigns but I counted 3 major strands of communication, aimed at passengers, freight customers and investors, as well as to keep railway staff informed. They are:

  • Modernisation and expansion of services in the centre and south, such as double-tracking and new automatic level crossings. 
  • Reconstruction after Daesh destroyed lines and infrastructure in the north and west. An example is IRR regaining responsibility for the wrecked al-Qa’im station in Anbar (April 2020). 
  • Programmes to reassure staff and passengers about hygiene during the Covid-19 pandemic, such as the workers seen (right) at Samawa station in Dhi Qar. 

Nearly all the information on these is on Facebook with shares and comments. Posts are illustrated with photos or videos. 

Special occasion at Baghdad Central Station, May 2020. Photo copyright Zagros Media

12. How does the overall engagement feel?

I’m going to be generous and give 1 point here, mainly because the website is up-to-date and the Facebook page has a steady, interesting flow of information. Somebody has taken the trouble to reply to some comments on the Facebook page so someone is monitoring. That’s a healthy sign. 

Conclusion. 

There are some easy ways for IRR to score more highly in the Digital Communications Index. It could post its videos on YouTube and its website. It could use the website more effectively and provide more information on its train timetables and facilities and about the different stations. Many of these have been rebuilt recently. Taken altogether 6/12 is a very creditable score in the circumstances, so well done. 

A note about passenger services.

The website provides accurate information about fares (Summer 2020). There are 8 express diesel multiple units imported from China in 2014 that operate passenger services, and these seem popular. The website shows Train 20 down to Basra departs Baghdad at 19:00. The up return train departs Basra at 19:30. According to statements there are 2 types of train services: Super takes 6.5 hours and Regular takes 8 hours for the journey. 

Fares for the Baghdad/Basra route are: 

  • Tourist Seats: 1st Class ID12,000 / 2nd Class seat ID8000
  • Sleeper Beds: 1st Class ID30,000 / 2nd Class ID25,000

Fares for the Baghdad/Fallujah route are:

  • Seat ID2000 / Couchette ID3000

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