Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gulf rail network awaits approval

The much-talked about 2,117km rail network, starting in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, is likely to be completed by 2017 to unite the Gulf.        

  • The GCC network will have two rail lines: One that will connect all GCC countries and Qatar via a bridge and another that will stretch between Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and end in Oman. Kuwait is planning a 1,500-km railway line linking its border with Iraq down the Gulf coast to the Omani port of Salah on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Bahrain is planning a $8 billion railway project stretching 184 km.
  • Image Credit: Guillermo Munro/Gulf News

Dubai: A long train journey to exotic destinations across the Gulf countries would be possible if final permission is granted to the GCC railway project at the Abu Dhabi summit of the GCC.
The much-talked about 2,117km rail network, starting in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, is likely to be completed by 2017 to unite the Gulf.
The GCC railway is the most ambitious project attempted in the region. It would change the transportation pattern in the GCC. Train services across the six GCC states will facilitate movement and travel of GCC citizens as well as expatriates and boost regional trade.
Once the green light is given, the massive rail project will go ahead to the network construction phase and tenders could be called as early as possible to develop the designs of the project.

Obstacle remains
Despite all political, fin-ancial and regulatory challenges behind the railway project, getting government approval and consensus remains the most immediate obstacle to progress on the project.
Diesel-powered trains operating at speeds of up to 200km/h would carry passengers and freight between the six states.
By the time the project is completed, the railway will connect six countries, five capital cities and two seas and cross three deserts, two waterways and a mountain range. The project also includes bridges, causeways, tunnels and cutting more than 21km long.
On the other side, the rail network is a good opportunity for business, travellers and traders. It will be an alternative to air, road and sea routes providing growing economic interdependence.
The challenging engineering project will start in the north at Kuwait's border with Iraq and head south through Kuwait City, across the Dibdibah plain and into Saudi Arabia.
The route will then follow the Gulf coast to the rail head of the kingdom at Ras Al Zour, Jubail Industrial city and Dammam, the eastern terminus of Saudi Arabia's only functioning railway, now almost 60 years old.
From there, the project will cross via a causeway the 28km of the Gulf that separate Saudi Arabia from Bahrain, and pass through Manama to another causeway — this time 40km to Ras Eshareg on the northwest coast of Qatar. The railway will then head south through the Qatari peninsula to Doha, new Doha port, the industrial city of Messaieed and into Saudi Arabia.
At the border town of Al Ghuwaifat, it will enter the UAE, pass through the oil and chemical centre at Ruwais and then to Al Ain before crossing the border with Oman to Sohar Industrial Port and finally its southern terminus at Barka.
The rail project will move to the third stage of developing phase where tenders would be invited from specialised consultancy firms in order to start the engineering.
Mohammad Bin Obaid Al Mazroui, GCC assistant secretary-general for economic affairs, told Gulf News that six companies would be shortlisted to carry out the railway project.
The six GCC countries will be responsible for developing their sections of the rail line independently. However, the companies chosen to execute the project on their territory should all abide by unified standards and specifications.
The second phase of the project has been finalised and report will be submitted in the meeting that the project is feasible and ready to invite bids, he added.

Financially feasible
"The project is commercially and financially feasible. Engineering designs have been submitted and the final report will be submitted to the GCC members next week."
He remarked that the latest detailed study of the project is not much different from the preliminary one. Minor changes have been done to the rail passes and operation process.
The coming GCC meeting will discuss the feasibility study of the railway project and integrity between the member states in the transport field to go ahead with the project to phase three — construction network — Al Mazroui says.
According to the latest study, the cost of the project will be in excess of $30 billion (Dh110 billion), he added. "This project will alleviate much of the financial and logistical burden of land-to-sea travel," he said. "The only challenge we are facing is in the inconsistent coordination between the Gulf countries and the varied operation date of the rail project," Al Mazroui added.
He hoped to get the project up and running by 2017.

Location: Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, UAE
Length: 2,117 km
The GCC technical committee plans to build a railway network project in the GCC
The purpose of the project is to link the six GCC countries together running from Kuwait to Oman
In 2004, a preliminary study was carried by Parsons Brinckerhoff and global Investment House and proposed two routes for the network
The first route will be running Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain over Qatar, crossing the relevant stretches of water by bridge and continuing to UAE and Oman
The second will stretch from Kuwait to Saudi Arabia before passing through UAE and ending in Oman
The consortium of Systra, Khatib and Alami, and Canrail is the project consultants and the world bank will be advising on the tendering process
GCC members declared that the project is commercially and financially feasible
The engineering design briefs were made to be submitted for construction approval.

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