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Sat 3 Apr 2010 04:00 AM

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Building tracks

The GCC expects to have a fully operational railway system - cargo and passenger - within the next seven years.

Building tracks

The GCC expects to have a fully operational railway system - cargo and passenger - within the next seven years.

As the GCC states begin to witness more inter-state traffic, the need for a pan GCC rail transport system, has never been more pressing.

GCC Rail Network

With this in mind, the GCC Technical Committee decided back in 2006 to build a railway network that would link-up the six GCC nations.

The raiway, which will be around 2200km long and will run from Oman to Kuwait, will also pass through the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The railway will be linked to the Middle East rail network (not built yet) where the full network will have 16 lanes with an approximate length of 19,000km.

In 2004, a preliminary study carried out by US-based Parsons Brinckerhoff and the Kuwaiti Global Investment House proposed two routes for the network.

The first was to run over Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain over Qatar, crossing the relevant stretches of water by bridge and continuing to UAE and Oman, with the second stretching from Kuwait to Saudi Arabia before passing through UAE and ending in Oman.

GCC states have been independently developing their sections of the rail line.

Oman is carrying out its section of the railway in three phases. Phase 1 extends from Sohar to Muscat (230km), Phase 2 extends from Muscat to Duqm (560km), and Phase 3 could see an extension to Salalah (580km).

The consortium of Systra, Canrail and Khatib and Alami is the project consultant with the World Bank advising on the tendering process.

In December 2010 or Q1 2011, the detailed design contract is expected to be awarded and Q4 2011 will see the engineering study completed. In 2013 construction is expected to start and completed in 2017.

At a summit held late last year, the GCC countries' proactive approach to building railroad networks, whose estimated cost is more than US $60 billion (AED220 billion), was welcomed by experts from within the region who said the efforts would help boost cross-border trade, cut freight costs and result in faster movement of cargo and passengers.

Hussain Al Nowais, chairman of the UAE's Union Railway Company spoke very positively of the project saying that rail is safer, faster, cleaner and a more economical mode of transportation.

According to estimates from the Union Railway Company it will cost up to $8.2 billion to build a countrywide 1400km network of railways by 2016. Dubai Metro alone cost $7.6 billion for two lines (Red and Green). The current plans for the network see the GCC railway completed by 2017.

Union Railway aims to connect the UAE to Oman and Saudi Arabia - connecting to Sohar in Oman through Al Ain, and connecting to Fujairah in the Eastern region.

It will offer two routes that provide alternative access to the Indian Ocean. The railway will also connect to Saudi Arabia through the Guweifat border and greater GCC and Mena regions.

Union Railway expects to transport 30 million tonnes of bulk and break bulk by 2015. At present, rail transport in Saudi Arabia is managed by the Saudi Railway Organisation, which provides freight services on three main lines totalling 1018km. There are plans to extend the network to the Red Sea port of Jeddah and eventually, to the borders of Jordan, Yemen, and perhaps all the way to Egypt.

Deutsche Bahn signs UAE rail deal

Last week German national rail operator Deutsche Bahn said in a statement that it has signed a memorandum of understanding in Abu Dhabi laying out a strategic partnership between the rail giant and UAE-based Al Masaood Group for the planning, construction and operation of rail systems.

What is being planned involves projects in the double-digit billions range," a Bahn spokesman said, declining to be named.

Bahn is already involved in a $22.66 billion project in neighbouring Qatar.

GCC Rail so far…

December 2006 - the invitation to bid for the study contract was issued.

February 2007 - a consortium led by France's Systra, Lebanon's Khatib and Alami and Canada's Canrail was awarded the feasibility study contract. The study covers extrapolation of topographical and statistical data, route alignment works, port integration, financing and development options, creation of a legal model and passenger and freight intel.

September 2007 - the consortium started working on the feasibility study.

December 2008 - the feasibility study was completed and approved by GCC.

February 2009 - Systra was awarded the study contract of Phase 1 of Oman's section of the railway (from the port of Sohar to the capital Muscat).

May 2009 - study of Phase 1 completed.

December 2009 - member states declare project commercially feasible.

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