Delays threaten 2020 launch date for GCC rail network

According to MEED Projects, while metro projects in the Middle East are pushing ahead the ambitious GCC railway has stalled.
According to MEED Projects, while metro projects in the Middle East are pushing ahead  the ambitious GCC railway has stalled.
According to MEED Projects, while metro projects in the Middle East are pushing ahead the ambitious GCC railway has stalled.

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The GCC states must decide soon on the fate of the long-awaited GCC rail railway network if it is to be operational by 2020, according to the latest analysis by MEED Projects, the region’s leading online projects tracking service.

According to MEED Projects, while metro projects in Doha, Dubai, Jeddah, Mecca and Riyadh are pushing ahead rapidly, efforts to develop the ambitious GCC railway track that would link the six states have been sluggish.

Analysis of railway and metro projects data reveals that there are almost US $61-billion worth of projects under construction in the region, of which more than US $40-billion comprise work on the Doha and Riyadh metro schemes.

The only overland, mainline networks under construction currently are the final elements of the high-speed Haramain network between Jeddah and Medina, and the freight lines serving, Dammam, Jubail and the Waad al-Shamal mining development.

“Despite years of talks and planning, we are still no closer to the development of a GCC rail network even though we are just three years away from the official opening date,” says Ed James, director of content & analysis at MEED Projects. “Long distance freight and passenger projects do appear to be problematic to develop in the region due to a range of issues such as cost, geo-politics, technology and rights-of-way.”

James points to the estimated US $5-billion second phase of the Etihad Rail network as a case it point. It will be part of the GCC railway network linking the Abu Dhabi border with Saudi Arabia to Al-Ain, where it would link up with the Omani section. Despite tenders to build the project having been evaluated for more than two years, the client recently decided to retender the project resulting in even more delays.

At the same time, Kuwait is no closer to awarding its section of the network, having considered both privately and publicly financed solutions to fund the project, while Saudi Arabia has been trying to get the estimated US $7-billion Landbridge rail link between Jeddah and Riyadh off the drawing board for “more than a decade”.

There are signs that mainline rail development in the region is picking up, despite the delays. Bids were submitted to Oman Rail earlier this year for the estimated US $6-billion first phase of its Oman network, while Qatar Rail says it plans to tender the first stage of its US $15-billion long-distance passenger and freight line early next year.

All told, there are more than 34,000 kilometres of railway projects planned across the Middle East & North Africa. This will require more than US $200-billion in investment, making the region one of the most active globally in the sector.

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