Jordan’s rail, road, sea and air transport infrastructure is currently undergoing a rapid transformation, with opportunities for investment in all segments. These projects seek to capitalise on the kingdom’s growing domestic market, as well as on the country’s geographic location. The latter has long made Jordan a natural transport and logistics corridor for the rest of the region, with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the West Bank, Israel and Syria as its neighbours.
While recent conflicts over several of these borders have led to closures and some challenging recent times for the sector, transport remains the lifeblood of the economy, particularly in connecting the kingdom’s main port – Aqaba – in the south with the capital and larger cities in the north.
Facts & Figures
According to data published by the Central Bank of Jordan (CBJ), in 2015 the transport and communications sector was responsible for approximately JD1.7bn ($2.4bn) in contributions to GDP at constant prices. This was up from JD1.6bn ($2.3bn) in 2014, with the sector showing annual increases for the previous five years. The figure for 2015 was from a total Jordanian GDP at constant market prices of JD11.4bn ($16bn), or 14.5%.
The sector depends on the export and re-export of goods for much of this contribution, as well as on transport to the domestic market. The kingdom’s sole port, Aqaba, on the Red Sea in the south-west, has been vital in the re-export trade, with goods landing there shipped to neighbouring countries.
Since 2011, however, Syria has been at war, with the frontier finally fully closed in April 2015, while conflict in Iraq saw the Baghdad government shut their border with Jordan in July 2015. Trade with Israel has also often been subject to lengthy border controls, as has trade with the Palestinians, as Israel controls the frontier with the West Bank. “We need to be ready for when Iraq and Syria’s borders open. There will be a lot of movement, but we need to start investing now,” Rakan Madi, managing director for Jordan and Iraq at global shipping company Maersk Line, told OBG.
As a result of regional developments, as well as global trade patterns, the value of re-exports has been in decline in recent years. CBJ figures show a total of JD878.7m ($1.2bn) in re-exports in 2011, declining to JD812.8m ($1.14bn) by 2013, JD790.2m ($1.11bn) in 2014 and JD763.2m ($1.07bn) in 2015.
However, in May 2016 there was some good news, with the Iraqi government stating that it would soon reopen the crossing at Turaibil. Jordanian observers were cautiously optimistic that if Iraqi government forces could provide security for the lengthy Ramadi desert highway that connects Turaibil to Baghdad, trade might soon be resumed. Much depends on the securing of Fallujah, which lies on the road and was at the centre of major combat operations in mid-2016.
Jordan is also attempting to improve transport links to the West Bank. In May 2016 the Palestinian Ministry of Economy announced that, with EU support, it had reached an agreement with Jordan on exporting goods in small containers across the Allenby Bridge. This connection, the King Hussein border crossing, is the only outlet for exports and imports between the West Bank and the rest of the world and is controlled by Israel. Previously, goods had been subject to unloading and inspection by Israeli security before being reloaded and passing through. This delay has historically been costly, and at times quite damaging to perishable goods.
The sector has seen one benefit from the regional instability currently surrounding it, namely, growth in the domestic market. Since the conflict began in neighbouring Syria, Jordan has become home to around 630,000 officially registered Syrian refugees. The actual number, however, may be as high as 1.2m. “Because of the refugees, Jordan’s population has increased considerably,” Ghada Qandah, market analyst for the Kawar Group, told OBG. “This has increased domestic consumption and local cargoes have gone up.”
The Department of Statistics put Jordan’s population at 9.69m in May 2016, up from an estimated 6.25m at the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011. This gives a compound annual growth rate of 9.17% over five years, while the normal annual population growth rate was approximately 2.2% prior to the beginning of the conflict.
Further impacting the sector in recent times has been a general slowdown in the kingdom’s economic growth. In 2015 this stood at 2.4% in real terms, down from 3.1% in 2014 and 2.8% in 2013. Regional instability has been a major factor in this decline, as has the slump in global oil and gas prices. Although this has benefitted Jordan’s import bill – the kingdom holds insignificant oil and gas reserves of its own – it has badly impacted the GCC countries.
These nations are a major source of grants, with belt tightening in the GCC leading to a reduction in the flow of funds to Jordan. Total foreign grants decreased from JD1.2bn ($1.7bn) in 2014 to JD886m ($1.5bn) in 2015. This has had knock-on effects throughout the broader economy, impacting the transport sector as well.
The main governmental institution tasked with regulating the sector is the Ministry of Transport (MoT). The MoT is supported by the Trade and Transport Facilitation programme, which seeks to bring public and private stakeholders together to overcome hurdles faced by the transport sector.
Meanwhile, public transport in the capital area comes under the purview of the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM), while municipalities outside the capital fall under the Land Transport Regulatory Commission (LTRC) which, prior to the introduction of the LTRC Interim Act in 2010, was named the Public Transport Regulatory Commission.
The 2010 act extended the commission’s mandate to include freight transport authorities. The LTRC works to ensure fair competition and is a regulatory body for public transport in all areas outside of the country’s capital. The only exception to this rule is in the Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZ), where the ASEZ Authority (ASEZA) holds responsibility for sea, air and land transport.
Port Of Call
The kingdom has two key centres for international transport and logistics. The first is the Port of Aqaba and the second is Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA), located at Zizya, 30 km south of the capital, Amman (see analysis). The port is Jordan’s sole maritime link and has a long history. King Solomon is said to have had ships built there, and in the final years of the Ottoman Empire it became an important rail hub, connecting to both Damascus in the north and Medina in the south.
In 1952 a royal decree established the Aqaba Port Authority, which became the Aqaba Ports Corporation (APC) in 1978. According to an announcement made by the government in February 2016, APC is set to become a fully government-owned company. APC exclusively handles non-container used cargo – bulk, break-bulk, roll-on/roll-off and oil – while all containerised cargo and liner shipping services are handled by Aaqba Container Terminal (ACT).
As the port continued to grow – and in recognition of the need for it to become part of a more integrated economic and transport hub – in 2000 the government launched the ASEZ. In 2004, along with the government, the ASEZA in turn launched the Aqaba Development Corporation (ADC), and it is this body that currently owns the airport and some significant stretches of land and real estate, as well as a minority stake in the seaport.
The ADC is now behind a string of ventures at the port, including the Aqaba New Port project, the ACT, the new phosphate terminal and the cement terminal. APC continues to be in charge of general cargo operations, while ACT is run by APM Terminals Jordan, the majority stakeholder and part of the global shipping giant, the Moller-Maersk Group.
Steps are being taken by the government to relocate the port’s general cargo operations from the historic town to an area close to the Saudi border to accommodate real estate projects being developed along the coastline. This follows the 2001 master plan for the port, which has seen the older harbour area redeveloped for cruise liner and recreational use under the Marsa Zayed project.
Cruise tourism has been taking off in recent years, with local media reporting in March 2016 that more than 30,000 passengers were expected to arrive in Aqaba by the end of the year, mostly from Europe. ASEZA has been keen to promote the city as a standalone tourism destination, too, organising and sponsoring a string of events, such as the Aqaba Carnival, to bring visitors in (see Tourism chapter).
Major Port Development
The port has been the subject of a three-phase construction project under the Aqaba New Port project. The BAM International-MAG partnership contracted to implement it has undertaken a substantial amount of work in dredging and land reclamation, along with the construction of 800 metres of mooring quays. Four new berths, a slipway 190 metres in length, intake and outflow pipes, pontoons and a range of marine services installations have also been added.
BAM International-MAG was also responsible for the construction of the new Aqaba liquefied natural gas terminal. The terminal consists of a 100-metre trestle on steel pipes, four mooring and two breasting dolphins, and a large concrete loading platform, along with various ancillary structures. The first gas came ashore at the jetty in June 2015 after the facility’s floating storage and regasification unit (FRSU), Golar Eskimo, docked successfully the previous month (see Energy chapter).
The 2013 expansion of ACT was also a BAM International-MAG construction project. The works involved extending the quay to 1000 metres through the addition of a further 460 metres. This increased annual capacity to 1.3m twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). ACT remained operational while the development works were carried out.
The project was a success and is now in operation, significantly boosting ACT’s capabilities and level of efficiency. “We have the possibility to develop our capacity further,” the chief commercial officer of ACT, Vincent Flamant, told OBG. “And for now, the next possible development is to expand and upgrade our gates to cater to the expected higher flow of trucks in the future.”
Although the closure of the Syrian and Iraqi borders has had a significantly negative impact on throughput overall, export levels at ACT in 2014-15 were up. This is partly because of the closed borders; exporters that previously had sent goods to Syria, Iraq and other nearby countries by land were obliged to re-route by sea.
However, ACT saw its overall cargo throughput fall some 10.5% in 2014 due to regional instability. With 30% of all containers offloaded at the port bound principally for Iraq, 2015 posted a 3% decline when that border closed, to 767,000 TEUs. During that time, Aqaba played a vital role in assisting the Jordanian export industry in meeting its business commitments. “When the Syrian border finally closed in April 2015, we had a surge of 46% in export volume through Aqaba,” Flamant told OBG.
Indeed, as exporters switched to the port, some record-breaking months were seen. In May 2015 ACT handled 9287 TEUs, up 42% year-on-year (y-o-y), while in November 2015 the port handled 11,860 TEUs, a 43% y-o-y increase. While the border closures are pushing maritime export volumes up, they are also exerting some pressure on Jordanian exporters’ profit margins as costs and transit times increase.
Several recent moves at ACT have helped to significantly improve the efficiency of the logistics chain. One of these is the relocation of the inspections and clearance facilities outside the terminal itself to a new location, Yard 4. The departure of the cargo inspection facility has also created space for a widening of the gates, which should also improve flow.
Another significant development has been the introduction of a scanning apparatus for cargoes bound for Iraq, which will come into play once the border re-opens. Until now, cargoes landing at Aqaba but bound for Baghdad were opened and inspected in Jordan, adding considerable time to passage. Scanning should cut this delay considerably.
One further area for improvement is yard space. ACT allows up to seven days of free storage at the port, a move designed to allow for delays in processing and inspection, but with the speeding up of these processes, there is no longer any need for such lengthy storage times, and it is thought that this may encourage companies to use the yard for free warehousing, causing congestion.
Moves to change this arrangement are thus likely in the year ahead. “ACT is a very efficient container terminal,” Flamant told OBG. “However, developing a sustainable logistics competitive advantage for Jordan will require further investment, both beyond the terminal and in improvements to the cargo clearance process, to become a really attractive place for domestic and foreign investors to develop industries in the country to serve the region and beyond.”
Another recent development is the expansion of the Aqaba Logistics Village (ALV). This Kawar-APM Terminals project expands upon a 470,000-sq-metre site next to ACT and close to the other ports and terminals. Including a container freight station, distribution centres, Customs facilities and a weighbridge, the ALV completed its second phase in August 2015. There is also the potential for a third phase to add 220,000 sq metres in the near future.
Taking The Train
Historically, Aqaba has been important not just for its port, but also for its rail connections. While the old Hejaz Railway no longer takes pilgrims to Medina, it does still provide the basic track for much of Jordan’s cargo-only contemporary rail service. Currently, the rail network consists of two systems, both operated by government-owned entities. The longest, at 293 km, is run by Aqaba Railway Corporation (ARC), while the second, at 217 km, is run by the Hejaz Railway Corporation (HRC). The HRC used to run trains into Syria until the conflict ended this, with a line from the border through Amman to Irbid. The HRC still runs some tourist services by special commission, while also possessing some 111 km of abandoned line in other parts of the kingdom.
The ARC, meanwhile, is a vital cargo carrier for Jordan’s phosphate exports, bringing them from mines in the interior to Aqaba. In 2015 the railway transported some 2.08m tonnes of phosphate, up from 1.34m tonnes in 2014. The railway is following a strategic plan for 2015-17, which dovetails with Jordan’s overall plans for rail development. The latter were laid out in 2011 by the MoT, and include approximately 897 km of track to be laid across the country, connecting the capital with Aqaba, the Syrian, Saudi and Iraqi borders, and the kingdom’s other main cities, along with the principle phosphate mine at Shidiye.
“Transportation within the country costs almost the same as an international shipping,” Hakam Abul Feilat, general manager of Aqaba Logistics Village, told OBG. “We have our hopes in the development of the railway, as it would make the sector more competitive,” he added.
The plan could soon receive a significant boost from a draft investment fund law, which is expected to be put before the next parliament. The proposed network is one of the projects brought under the bill’s remit, meaning that if the bill is passed, a funding structure for this development could be put in place sometime in the near future (see analysis).
In April 2015 the MoT announced a JD2bn ($2.8bn) three-part plan for network expansion, with the first phase being a stretch between Aqaba and Ma’an. This will be followed by a new section from Ma’an to Amman, and lastly, Amman to Mafraq. Dry ports are also planned at Ma’an, at Madounah in Amman and at Mafraq, thus linking rail to a wider logistics network. The new lines will be single, standard gauge, rather than the existing single, narrow gauge of the old Hejaz line. “We have been talking about the dry port for the past decade. However, now that this is a directive of King Abdullah II, resources have been allocated to go ahead with it,” Hussein Krishan, CEO of Ma’an Development Area, told OBG. “The design for the dry port has already been put to tender. In addition, there are plans to build a pipeline to take oil from Aqaba to Ma’an.”
Another rail plan in the pipeline aims to establish a light rail link between Amman and QAIA. In June 2015 the MoT invited consultants to submit proposals for a pre-feasibility study to be carried out the following July. Although no further progress had been made on the project at the time of publication, it is thought that it will use existing track, except for a 2-km spur, with potential involvement from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
On The Road
According to the most recent data from the Department of Statistics, in 2014 the kingdom had a road network of 7339 km, up from 7299 km the previous year. Operating on this were some 1.33m vehicles, an increase over 1.26m in 2013. This increase in vehicles – due to the rapid rise in population – has put greater pressure on the road system.
To address this, the Amman bus rapid transit (BRT) programme, in the works for several years, is slowly rolling out. Several lines are envisaged under the scheme: the first around the city of Amman, a second connecting the capital with Zarqa and a third proposed line running from the capital to Salt. The project’s first phase recently received a boost with $152m in funding from the French Development Agency. The second, at a cost of JD110m ($154.7m) project, is being funded by a grant from Kuwait.
The expectation is that the Amman-Zarqa route will cut journey times from 40 minutes to 20-25 minutes. However, there have been delays, with the project stopping and starting several times until its relaunch in 2013. Work is now under way on a 4-km stretch on Princess Basma Street in Amman. When completed, the BRT system, under the mandate of GAM, will encompass a network of around 33 km, some 25 km of which will be dedicated bus lanes, with 150 buses and a 200,000-passenger-per-day target.
On the Amman-Zarqa route, around 4200 passengers are expected to be served at peak times, with construction due to get under way in 2016 and take around three years to complete. As for the Amman-Salt route, this is less advanced, but is estimated to cost around $237m and is also expected to take approximately three years to construct.
At the same time, the MoT is also looking for investors for new municipal bus companies in Zarqa, Salt and Irbid. Some 250 buses and six depots – two in each city – along with a workshop in each location are required, with this whole project expected to cost around $65m. This move could help address the fragmentation of the city’s current bus system, which is composed of a large number of individually run smaller buses and mini-vans.
Expanding Airport Capacity
QAIA, near Amman, is Jordan’s largest and primary international airport. The country also has two others: King Hussein International Airport in Aqaba and the Amman Civil Airport just outside of Amman.
In line with government efforts to increase tourism revenues and consolidate Jordan’s position as transport hub for the region, QAIA has undergone large-scale renovation works in recent years, the latest of which – the second phase of a new passenger terminal – was completed in September 2016, raising the terminal’s capacity from 9m passengers a year to 12m. The development of the terminal is seen as instrumental in meeting the expected rise in demand at the airport, which is projected to reach 12m passengers by 2020, according to local media.
QAIA has seen substantial passenger growth in recent years and has worked to expand its portfolio of destinations despite regional instability (see analysis). The summer months of 2016 were particularly notable for passenger traffic, with the airport recording some of its highest-ever passenger levels in August, at 830,259 passengers. Levels also stayed high in September, according to Airport International Group, the airport’s developer and operator, due to increased travel at the end of the Hajj season as well as a rise in leisure trips during the nine-day Eid Al Adha holiday. Aircraft movements for the month were up by around 2% y-o-y, while passenger numbers reached over 770,000.
The ongoing turmoil in the region and its link to the prospects of the Jordanian transport sector make any long-term forecasting difficult. Indeed, much will depend on the security situation in the neighbouring Iraqi province of Anbar, which holds the key to continued trade into Iraq, Iran and beyond. At the same time, the Syrian conflict appears likely to continue to close land access not only to Syria, but Lebanon and the Kurdish regions beyond.
Meanwhile, expansion of the domestic market is ongoing, with organic demand growth driving much of this. Improvements to the Port of Aqaba are likely to continue too, in terms of improving the service for general cargo.
The BRT is also set to progress, albeit at a slower rate than projected, while there could be some important developments in the national railway project ahead. Air transport also remains upbeat, with new airlines and improved capacity at QAIA.