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Suffolk officer gets Iraq back on track

PUBLISHED: 16:00 07 April 2003 | UPDATED: 13:42 03 March 2010

RAIL travel in Iraq has hit the buffers – because all the war-torn country's locomotives have disappeared.

Army rail experts are now hunting all available locomotives so rebuilding the country for the Iraqi people can steam ahead.

RAIL travel in Iraq has hit the buffers – because all the war-torn country's locomotives have disappeared.

Army rail experts are now hunting all available locomotives so rebuilding the country for the Iraqi people can steam ahead.

Army train expert Lieutenant Liz Davies has been handed the massive task of getting the south of the country back on track after more than a fortnight of fighting against Saddam Hussein's regime – once she has found some locos.

Commander of the Bicester-based rail troop of 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps, the 24-year-old from Ipswich has already successfully reintroduced a 3-mile rail system to transport shipments of thousands of tonnes of humanitarian aid at the port of Umm Qasr – one of the first towns to fall in the coalition advance into Iraq.

But mines floating in the harbour of this key entry point for aid are hampering the operation, she admitted.

Within a day, her 20-strong team of rail engineers from 17 PMR and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical engineers repaired the original shunts and tracks around the port that had been poorly maintained.

But a bigger job now lies ahead – opening up the south's vital train network, which stretches from Basra through Syria to Turkey, and to connect Iraqi communities cut off by war.

"What we have had to do so far has been quite straightforward. For instance, the state of the track could have been quite bad and at least we had locomotives there."

"A lot of the stuff has gone up north, we believe, but we have received reports that there may be a new Chinese locomotive in the Basra area."

British forces are taking on the last vestiges of resistance in Iraq's second city as diehard Saddam loyalists put up a last-ditch effort. Three British servicemen are reported to have been shot by snipers in street-to-street fighting. The severity of their injuries are unknown.

Helicopters from 3 Regiment, Army Air Corps were today on standby, their anti-tank TOW missiles ready to give air support a dawn attack on the old quarter of the city.

Former Northgate High School pupil Lt Davies is hoping found to transport supplies to towns left stranded by the fighting.

One of these villages is Engabashir, a town of around 200 people, who have been starved of supplies since the war began two that events of the next few days could unearth some oomph for the rolling stock that has already been weeks ago when the rail system shut down – and the 70 or so Iraqi soldiers deserted their posts and went home as soon as the first shots were fired on March 21.

"What we want to do is bring supplies in by locomotive as quickly as possible to get it up and running so we can hand it over to them as quickly as possible," said Lt Davies as the first large consignment of water for days was handed out to the villagers by an army 'hearts and minds' civil affairs team.

"We could get it started in a matter of hours once we've found the motive power."

She added that the rail tracks has stood up well to searing Middle East temperatures because the British brainpower behind it when the system was laid "in the 1950s or 1960s" took into account expansion of the rails in hot conditions.

"This meant they haven't buckled. It is the same gauge as the UK – 1435mm."

Captain Andy Bell, operations officer for 17 PMR, which is based at Marchwood near Southampton, reckoned it would take a month to six weeks before the rail system was fully handed over to the Iraqis. Aid agencies are looking to organise the main humanitarian effort in the next fortnight, he said.

"At the moment all the aid is coming by road and the next aid shipment is due tomorrowFinding a locomotive is a starting point," he said.


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