ONE REGION that has long harboured ambitions for an international rail network is the Gulf, although there has been little progress to report.

With Saudi Arabia forging ahead with its north-south mineral line, east-west Landbridge and Western Railway (RG 8.07 p465), others are keen to join the party. Reports surfaced last month that the leaders of the Gulf Co-operation Council states had put rail links at the top of their agenda.

The United Arab Emirates hopes to start work next year on an 800 km route linking Khawr Fakkan and Al-Fujayrah on the Gulf of Oman with the Saudi border, via Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with the first phase opening by 2013. Planning for two lines in Kuwait totalling 600 route-km is to start next year, and feasibility studies are being commissioned into joining up the various projects to form a 16-line network that could eventually total 19 000 route-km.

A line along the Saudi coast would link the UAE border with Kuwait; a branch from Dammam to Manama in Bahrain is under consideration, along with a 110 km route to serve Ad-Dawhah in Qatar. At the eastern end, the route could be extended to Masqat in Oman, and eventually south into Yemen.

With the first trainset for the Dubai metro now under test in Japan, urban rail is also proving popular. Abu Dhabi’s Department of Municipalities has set a budget of US$3bn for developing a light rail network linking the Emirate’s various islands with a proposed ‘capital core development’ on the mainland, where it might one day connect with the Gulf Coast Main Line.