A railway network is one major solution to Jordan’s oil bill, trade and balance of payment deficits, failing manufacturing industries, distorted land prices, unemployment problem, regional disparities in income, unemployment and poverty rates, concentration of investment in the capital and its absence in other governorates, and rising inequality at regional level.
In other words, Jordan’s overall regional development may hinge upon the existence of a commuter and cargo train network connecting the north to the south of the country. Therefore, when a government official announced that one of the projects to benefit from the aid being received from the Gulf countries is a railway network, one had reason for glee and optimism.
The lack of labour mobility in Jordan is caused by a virtually non-existent public transport system. Some may question such a claim, given the highly developed road network in the country, yet the cost of gasoline, cars, unsafe and unreliable travel modes, and the uncomfortable stressful experience while driving one’s own vehicle make commuting a problem.
Long daily commutes to and from work are a rare occurrence in Jordan. People who reside in the south or north of the Kingdom most often only access work in Amman if they move from their place of domicile to a more expensive and not necessarily better dwelling in Amman, or remain unemployed where they reside.
The loss of efficiency that results is significant, and the hardships that emerge are evidenced in the rising stress on Amman’s infrastructure and lack of development in the other regions.
In the past, attempts to locate investment projects outside the capital failed due to under development in the other regions.
The fact that 90 per cent of foreign direct investment went into Amman exacerbated the development problem of the other regions, as they became victims of rising prices and inflation while they benefited little from the investment and work opportunities.
Best practice in investment promotion is about bringing people to work, not work to people.
Clearly, there is a significant need to better connect the country, helping people (investors and workers) to choose not only where to reside but also where to work; the two locations do not have to be the same.
One story comes to mind from the days when I was studying to be an engineer in the 1970s, at Sheffield Hallam University (Sheffield Polytechnic then) in the UK.
Michael was a classmate who resided in a village on the outskirts of Manchester, a major city that was some 60 km away from Sheffield. Recently wed, he lived with his parents in their village near Manchester.
His roundtrip daily commute was a four-hour journey (130 km), which he wasn’t burdened by since he travelled on the efficient, comfortable and highly reliable British Rail system.
Sitting in the train, Michael could do his homework, including some engineering designs. The trip allowed him four hours of daily study in a comfortable environment.
He was not hampered by the distance; instead, the journey proved a blessing for him as he consistently scored among the top in our class.
Compare this to the story of Jordanian commuters.
Imagine what would become of Aqaba as a hub for local tourism once such a railway network were established and operational.
One could travel there in the morning, enjoy the Red Sea beaches, and come back the same day. Businesses there would flourish as people would think nothing of the back and forth commute.
And what would become of poor governorates such as Ajloun, Mafraq, Tafileh or Maan? People could continue to reside there while working anywhere else in the country. Local economic development could become a possibility.
One becomes excited at the possibility of such a dream becoming a reality. This would indeed be a positive economic development. JordanTimes 9/10/2012