The first railway in Iraq opened in 1914 between Baghdad and Samarra, a distance of 120km. This was the first section in present day Iraq of the much delayed Baghdad Railway, intended to connect that city with Istanbul, and authorised by the Ottoman government at the turn of the century. It was built to standard (1435mm) gauge. Subsequent expansion covered most of the main populated areas of Iraq (notably the river valleys of Mesopotamia) at this gauge at at metre gauge. Some of the metre gauge lines were converted to standard gauge in the 1980s, while the remainder were abandoned.
By the beginning of the 21st century, Iraqi Railways were much run down. Some 1700km of the standard gauge network remained in use, including the original Baghdad Railway connecting with the rail network of Syria, and through Syria to Turkey.
From 2003 war devastated even this remaining network and recovery took a number of years. By 2012, commuter lines in Baghdad and long distance routes from Baghdad to Basra, Fallujah and Mosul had been restored to operation. The rail network is seen as economically important for the country, with proposals in hand for modernisation and extension. New trains for the Baghdad to Basra passenger service were delivered in 2014.
In 2014 following invasion of the city by terrorist forces, the rail line to Mosul was severed again. The city was liberated in 2017 but rail infrastruture had been badly damaged during the occupation. In 2020 it was announced that work was about to commence on the reconstruction of Mosul station, together with a new 120km line from Mosul to the Turkish border, bypassing the former route through Syria.
In 2021, an agreement was reached for the construction of a new 32km line between Basra and Shalamcheh, Iran, connecting the national rail networks of both countries.
Photo image supplied by China Railway Corporation