GCC rail network and city undergrounds trains to help economies

Inception of the project of a Gulf railway link was approved in 2009 with 2018 as deadline for completion.  The primary objective is for the rail network to improve connections within each country and from each country to the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE and Oman.

Start of service however is not clearly defined so far and once the network is ready, it is hoped legislation needed to regulate operations will be conjured up on time with finalisation after each country enacted its specific regulations.

A Trans-Gulf Authority, to be set up, will be running the entire network.

It will have to focus on three major areas:

  • Legal framework for interoperability;
  • Technical harmonisation and standardisation; and
  • Safety

The $15.4 billion project entailing the construction of a 2,177km straight line along the Arabian Gulf western shore starting in Kuwait and going to Dammam, Abu Dhabi, Dubai ending in Muscat.   A loop connecting from Dammam to Bahrain and on to Qatar through a planned causeway and back to the main line through Salwa border town.  A connection off the main straight line allows to reach Riyadh.

The Gulf railway network has generally gone beyond design stage and some parts of the work are under way but it is rumoured that it is unlikely that some countries will meet the 2018 deadline.

Saudi Arabia has already taken concrete steps to implement its own part perhaps because of its size amongst others in the collective project.  Design work for the 950km “land bridge project” cargo and passenger line across the peninsula connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf coast, in addition to the local links with the GCC network, is virtually complete.

The UAE’s 1,200km Etihad Rail network linking main population centres three phased construction is on-going.  These two countries are believed to be on schedule for linking their networks together but other states are expected to join onto the main network when they are ready.

Qatar Railways Company (QRC) for instance issued a tender only last week for the appointment of a project manager and had still to go through the adjudication process prior to any appointment.  It is set to have a contract awarded for the first phase of the line that is to connect it to Saudi Arabia in mid-2016, with commercial service expected to begin by 2018.

However, indications are that Oman and Kuwait could also miss the deadline because of delays in awarding contracts and finalising design plans.  In Bahrain, preliminary studies have been completed for the railway lines and for a second causeway linking the country to Saudi Arabia but bids are still to be determined for the design stage.   The causeway that is to link Bahrain to Qatar has until further notice been put aside.

Qatar is also developing a massive rail network for freight and passengers ahead of the World Cup of 2022.  But its rail projects have been fraught with administrative delays and are lagging behind.

Earlier this year, QRC relaunched the pre-qualification tenders for civil works for the first phase of its connection to GCC network.  QRC that started accepting tenders for the first phase in 2014 but cancelled the process a month before award of the contract due date.  Following the call for resubmission, QRC added that the contracts for civil works and railway systems will be for mid-2016.  It is this uncertainty in contracts awards that has raised doubts about the viability of 2018 as a potential completion time for Qatar’s rail projects.

Among the GCC countries, Qatar has the second largest budget for rail projects at $30bn behind Saudi Arabia, with $50bn allocated for all its networks development.  In the meantime, the first batch of trams for Qatar Foundation’s (QF) Tram System has arrived in Doha.  These are destined for QF’s smart Education City that is set to boast a car-free zone with reduced carbon emissions, and to be part of a wider plan to ensure that sustainability is an integral part of the day-to-day lives of local residents.