GCC railway fully operational in 2018

Abu Dhabi: The 2,177-km-long GCC rail network, which will link all six Gulf states by rail for the first time, providing an alternative to air or sea travel for both goods and passengers in the region, will be fully operational in 2018, said Dr Ramiz Al Assar, World Bank resident adviser of the GCC Secretariat General in Riyadh, yesterday.

“The designs of the nearly $200 billion (Dh734.490 billion) network, which will run down the Gulf coast from Kuwait, through Saudi Arabia, to the UAE and Oman, with branches linking Bahrain and Qatar, will be completed by the end of this year or in the first quarter of next year. Construction on the network is to start in 2014-15 and it will be fully operational in 2018,” Dr Al Assar told the MENA Rail and Metro Summit, being held in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi is leading the GCC rail network with its Dh40 billion Etihad Rail project. The 1,200-km line, planned to be completed in 2018, will link major industrial zones, cities and ports in the UAE, and will eventually connect with the GCC railway.

GCC transport ministers approved the feasibility study for the railway in October 2008, although a number of other key decisions have yet to be taken, including the precise route of the line.

Dr Al Assar said talks were under way between Saudi Arabia and Jordan, on the one hand, and between Kuwait and Iraq, on the other, on connecting the Arabian Mashreq (Eastern) to Maghreb (Western) networks.

“Designs of a causeway to link Bahrain to the GCC railway is expected to be approved in the third quarter of next year and there are plans to link Muscat with Yemen,” Dr Al Assar said.

Dr Al Assar said a tender for a study to set up GCC railway authority was to be issued by the first quarter of next year.

“This year has seen a turning point in the regional rail market,” says MEED editorial director Richard Thompson. “Over the past 10 months, we have seen the region’s ambitions to build Metro systems and main line rail networks start to become a reality, with more than $30 billion worth of rail construction contracts awarded so far this year And there is a lot more to come.”

More than $30 billion worth of rail construction contracts have been awarded across the region in the first three quarters of 2013, compared with just $3.9 billion worth of contracts signed in the first three quarters of 2012. The single biggest investments this year saw $22 billion worth of construction contracts awarded in June on Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh Metro.

“The success of this project so far is likely to act as a catalyst for further Metro schemes in the kingdom,” Thompson said.

The Riyadh Metro project is one of the key projects being discussed at the MENA Rail and Metro Summit 2013. Other projects under discussion include the Etihad Rail, Doha Metro and plans for an integrated GCC rail network.

The rail boom also raises challenges for the region, particularly around skills shortage and supply chain bottlenecks.

“Everybody will be competing for the same resources,” Thompson said. “And there is a real risk of unnecessary delays and cost escalation unless people manage the situation effectively. A coordinated approach is required. That is what we are aiming to achieve with this summit meeting of regional rail industry leaders.”