By Hadi Khatib
GCC transport ministers will meet in Oct/Nov this year to discuss their progress in the project
The 2018 deadline for the delivery of the GCC-wide rail network is unlikely to be met, according to the UAE's Minister of Public Works, Dr Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi.
Dr Al Nuami, who is also chairman of the UAE Federal Transport Authority's Land & Maritime (FTA) unit, told a Middle East Rail press conference that when GCC leaders met three years ago in Kuwait and drew the 2018 baseline, they knew that some countries would not be able to meet it.
“And now it looks that way. The UAE will not have a problem meeting the deadline. Saudi Arabia recently announced they will meet it. 2020 is my best estimate on a more appropriate date when all GCC countries would be ready,” said Dr. Al Nuaimi.
He said that he believed it would more likely be 2020 until the network is complete, but said the GCC transport ministers will meet in October/November this year to discuss their progress in the rail and will then announce the project’s true state of affairs.
Dr. Al Nuami added that the UAE has secured government funding and awarded a contract to build a portion of the second phase of its $11 billion national rail network.
The second phase of the UAE railway project is 628 kilometres long, the longest of the three planned stages, and follows the completion of phase 1, for which state-owned Etihad Rail secured a $1.28 billion five-year bank loan to build.
That phase covered about 264 kilometres in the west of the country from Sha and Habshan near Abu Dhabi to Ruwais, and is now complete.
“How we fund the second and third phases of the project is up to the government, be it through a loan or not, but what we know is that Etihad Rail, a governmental entity, has secured $190.6 million (AED700 million) for part of the design and build contracts of phase II, and a contractor has been selected,” said Dr. Al Nuaimi.
He also added that the works would not be derailed by declining oil prices. “We have approved budgets in the UAE, but other countries might see it fit to delay. We are ahead, and we will deliver the links on time but what we are really concerned about is working in coherence on the network, making sure we use the same language, same technology, and same governing laws.
That’s our focus for the moment,” he said.
The Middle East Rail conference will take place at Dubai World Trade Centre on March 17-18.