MIDDLE EAST: The Gulf Co-operation Council remains optimistic that a 1940 route-km regional network could be operational by 2017. Despite concerns that the ambitious railway network linking the six states in the Gulf Co-operation Council could be delayed by the global economic downturn, officials are insistent that work will begin next year, and that the bulk of the 1940 route-km core route could be operational by 2017.

Painting a vision of 200 km/h diesel trains cruising seamlessly across the borders within the planned common market and currency union, GCC Assistant Secretary-General Mohammed Obaid Al-Mazroui confirmed on September 30 that the initial study by Systra, Canarail and Khatab & Alami (RG 1.09 p21) had now been approved by the region’s leaders. According to the study’s project manager David Lupton, a final decision to proceed is expected in 2011, followed by two years of engineering design and four years for construction.

The six countries have agreed to share the anticipated US$25bn cost in proportion to the length of main line in each country, says Al-Mazroui. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will shoulder the largest proportion, with Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman the other partners. Each country will build its own branches, stations and freight terminals to feed the core network.

UAE has already taken its first steps with the establishment of Etihad Railways Co, also known as Union Railways, following a decree by President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan in July. With an equity capital of 1bn dirhams, ER will be responsible for building around 1100 route-km at an estimated cost of 30bn dirhams. A second decree issued on October 1 appointed the ER board members, who will serve for an initial period of three years. New chairman Hassem Jasem Al Nowais has already started looking for potential traffic, opening negotiations with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Corp to serve oil and gas fields in the west of the country.

ER is to develop the network within UAE, with main lines running from Al-Ghuweifat on the border with Saudi Arabia to Al-Fujayrah and from Abu Dhabi to Al-Ayn and the Oman border. It has a mandate to procure its own fleet of freight and passenger trains.

Qatar has also launched its own national railway project, under the management of state-owned property development group Qatari Diar. According to its chairman Ghanem Saad Al Saad, railway development will run from 2012 to 2026, starting with a metro network in Doha and a connection to the Gulf Railway in the south.

To the east, Systra is working with Oman’s National Engineering Office on plans for an initial 400 km network in the Batinah region, with a feasibility study to be completed by the end of this year. The 260 km main line would follow the coast from Khatmat Malaha on the UAE border near Al-Fujayrah to Barka, with a 30 km link from Barka to Rusayl. A 110 km branch from the port of Suhar would run to the UAE border at Al Buraimi near Al-Ayn.

As an aspiring candidate to join the GCC, Yemen is anxious to plug into the emerging rail network. On October 14 Yemen’s Ministry of Transport invited tenders for a contract to manage the construction of three routes. A trunk line would run along the coast from the border with Saudi Arabia in the northwest to the Oman border in the east, with two branches serving ports on the Red Sea and Arabian Sea.