WHEN THE Saudi Arabian government began work on that country's ambitious north-south railway now under construc-tion, it suggested that the passenger line from Riyadh to the northwestern border might one day host international trains to and from Jordan. On May 23 that dream came a step closer, as Jordanian Transport Minister Saud Nseirat announced proposals to develop a national rail network within the next 20 years.

According to the minister, the network will link 'all the major towns and cities of the kingdom', carrying both passengers and freight. The scheme is part of a government strategy to reduce dependence on roads and create 'a sustainable long-term transport policy', he said, adding that in busy corridors rail would be cheaper and quicker than road.

The government hopes to sign a contract this month with the Chinese-Pakistani-Jordanian consortium selected to develop the 25 km Amman - Zarqa light rail line at a cost of US$240m (RG 6.07 p332). This month is also due to see the legal processes completed for the conversion of Aqaba Railway Corp into a new state-owned Aqaba Railway Operating Co, which paves the way for the transfer of the 1 055 mm gauge mineral railway to the private sector.

It is perhaps appropriate that Jordan has been chosen to host the third session of the UIC's Middle East Regional Assembly next year. The second session took place in the Iranian city of Esfahan on May 29-30, at which the assembly agreed to set up a permanent secretariat in Tehran. The second day was devoted to a workshop considering the various members' plans for railway development between now and 2025.