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Rail in the GCC

Contractors are being shortlisted for the construction of a $15.5bn rail network which will run from Kuwait to Oman and Yemen. We assess the opportunities it will bring for big business, backpackers and commuters.

January 20, 2010 4:18 by


The construction of the GCC railway is the first time an international rail network has been planned and implemented from scratch. This brings with it certain advantages, given that the train, signalling and computer systems will be compatible as part of the integrated system. In Europe, rail companies have spent billions of dollars making their rail networks compatible.
Saudi Arabia is currently the only GCC country to have a railway (although its network is still at a nascent stage) and Dubai is the only country to have a metro system.
A recent report by Kuwait Financial Centre (Markaz) said that GCC nations are planning to invest $109bn on rail projects in the next 10 years, based on the planned GCC-wide system, and announced national rail networks in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait. However, the Markaz estimate put the total cost of the GCC-wide network at $60 billion, far more than the actual estimated cost of $15.5 billion (or $25 billion, if the member states opt to have an electrified high-speed network). Other estimates put the total cost of all Gulf rail projects at $60 billion.
GCC rail construction contracts are expected to be awarded in December this year, with the GCC Secretary General currently long listing engineering firms. According to a report in Emirates Business, the UAE will spend the most on construction, at $4.4 billion, followed by Saudi Arabia ($3.8 billion), Oman ($2.8 billion), Bahrain ($2.7 billion) and Kuwait ($1 billion). According to the newspaper, commitments of more than $7bn have already been made. Construction is likely to begin in 2011 and the network should be completed in 2017; trains will carry both freight and passengers.
Separate, domestic rail projects include three lines in Saudi Arabia (Riyadh-Jeddah, the North-South railway and a high-speed line linking Mecca to Medina), with a reported estimated cost of $25 billion. Abu Dhabi has plans for a 131km metro system, and a 590km regional passenger railway that will link it with Al Gharbia, Al Ain and the border with Dubai. Bahrain is planning an $8.13bn rail system with six lines spanning 184km.


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