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GCC on track to be linked by rail in next 10 years

GCC railway links Etihad Rail
UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said the railway network is an important milestone in the development journey
  • Currently no operational railways in Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait
  • UAE national network now extends across Saudi Arabia border
  • Saudi plans to add 2,765km of rail and metro projects

GCC governments are preparing to hand out $167 billion worth of contracts to link the six member countries by railway.

“We should expect to see some significant contracts awarded on the railway to link all the GCC states over the next 24 to 26 months,” said Ed James, head of content and analysis at Meed, on Monday at a webinar on the Mena Rail and Metro Projects Market.

“In 10 years time you’re going to seamlessly travel across the GCC states by rail.”

The Mena region has less than 24,000km of developed railway tracks over a land area of 15 million sq km. In the GCC there are no operational railways in Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.

The long-awaited GCC rail project has been in gestation for years, but it suffered a particular setback from a plunge in oil prices in 2014. New life was breathed into the scheme in 2021 when all member states met at AlUla in Saudi Arabia and reaffirmed their commitment to the line.

Currently the UAE is the only country to have made much in the way of progress.

Stage one of the UAE national railway network, developed and operated by Etihad Rail, has been fully operational since January 2016.

It transports up to 22,000 tonnes of granulated sulphur each day, 264km from Habshan and Shah to Ruwais on behalf of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc).

Stage Two is now complete and extends 605km across the UAE from the border with Saudi Arabia at Ghuwaifat.

It connects the seven emirates via Abu Dhabi, Kizad, Khalifa Port, Jebel Ali Port, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah and through to Fujairah on the UAE’s east coast.

The third phase of the UAE project – a high-speed passenger link between Dubai and Abu Dhabi – is currently going through feasibility studies.

James said that this phase would likely involve building two central stations in the heart of both cities. “It’s ambitious and it’s going to be costly. But it will be a significant change to the dynamics of the UAE if and when it’s approved.”

The UAE national railway network will contribute AED200 billion ($54.45 billion) to the national economy and save AED8 billion in the cost of road maintenance. The network’s tourism benefits are estimated at AED23 billion.

Oman is expected to be the first country to link up with the UAE through a Sohar Port to Al Wathra Link.

Pre-qualification of contractors for the design and build of the Link is under way. Contracts are likely to be issued in the first half of next year, James said.

James said Kuwait is looking into a railway connecting to the country’s border with Saudi Arabia, while Bahrain’s new King Hamed Causeway will also include a rail link into the kingdom. Qatar is exploring high speed rail links to Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom plans to add 2,765km of rail and metro projects to its existing network, including the much-delayed Land Bridge project connecting Riyadh and Jeddah.

“Over the next two to three years we hope to start seeing construction of those various different elements,” James said.

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