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Fri 4 Sep 2015 12:57 AM

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GCC said to face struggle to meet 2020 regional railway deadline

New analysis suggest efforts to develop the GCC railway track that would link the six states have been sluggish

GCC said to face struggle to meet 2020 regional railway deadline

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 new analysis by MEED Projects.

While metro projects in Doha, Dubai, Jeddah, Makkah and Riyadh are pushing ahead rapidly, efforts to develop the ambitious GCC railway track that would link the six states have been sluggish, it said in a statement.

Analysis of railway and metro projects data reveals that there are almost $61 billion worth of projects under construction in the region, of which more than $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," said 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.

"A good case in point is the estimated $5bn second phase of the Etihad Rail network which 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 $7bn Landbridge rail link between Jeddah and Riyadh off the drawing board for more than a decade."

However, despite the lack of progress, there are signs that mainline rail development in the region is picking up, he added.

Bids were submitted to Oman Rail earlier this year for the estimated $6bn first phase of its Oman network, while Qatar Rail says it plans to tender the first stage of its $15bn 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 $200 billion of investment, making the region one of the most active globally in the sector.

It is the regional metro sector, though, that is moving fastest. In addition to the Doha and Riyadh metros which are now well under way, contract awards to build the estimated $11bn Mecca metro are imminent, while tenders are expected soon for the $13bn Jeddah metro and next year potentially for the Medina and Dammam metro networks.

Similarly, bidding is ongoing for the extension of the Dubai metro's Red Line to link it with the site of the Expo 2020 development.

"Metro projects appear to be more of a priority for governments in the region which are facing increasing traffic congestion in their major cities," said James. "On the other hand, the thinking on mainline rail networks appears to be that there is not such an immediate return on the substantial investment required. This has resulted in delays over project implementation."

The region's rail ambitions will be discussed at MEED's 11th annual MENA Rail & Metro Summit in Dubai on October 5-7.

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