Road congestion is a major issue in the Middle East, particularly in Dubai, where, according to a study by Inrix, motorists spent nearly 29 hours stuck in traffic in 2017. As a result, the demand for transport by other means, such as railway, has grown considerably.@dan
Similar problems exist across the other five Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. This is part of the reason why the countries are collaborating to construct a 2,117-kilometer, $25 billion passenger and cargo railway network. The GCC Railway will also help promote trade and tourism between the six member states.
Because all six countries are completing their own portions of the extensive railway network, there have been technical, bureaucratic, and financial challenges, particularly those caused by low oil prices. Still, the entire network is expected to be linked by 2023.
Construction Begins in Kuwait
The railway project in Kuwait stalled after the country approved plans for its section in 2010. However, construction for the first phase of the five-phase build is finally underway. Kuwait’s Al Anba newspaper, citing senior officials, confirmed the $3 billion project had begun in late August.
The first phase includes the creation of a new connection to Nuwaiseb on the Saudi border and a 153-kilometer link from Kuwait City to Boubyan Port. Construction is expected to be ongoing for upwards of five years.
Freight will be responsible for generating more than 70 percent of revenue accrued from the railway network. There will also be passenger services from Kuwait City to Dammam as part of the first phase of the project.
More than 60 passenger stations will be built, the majority of which will be underground. The passenger train will be capable of running at speeds of up to 225 kilometers per hour.
Bahrain Projecting 2019 for Construction
As with Kuwait, Bahrain’s railway and metro ambitions have been hindered by a variety of financial and bureaucratic challenges. The country’s first nationwide monorail network was approved in 2008, but construction has yet to begin. However, the project is now gaining momentum.
Funded in partnership by the government and private sector, the network is expected to span 109 kilometers with the ability to carry 43,000 passengers per hour. Tenders for construction are expected to be issued in the fourth quarter of 2019. The entire project will take four years to complete and cover 30 square kilometers across two separate lines.
“The first line, known as The Red Line, will connect Bahrain International Airport to King Faisal Highway through Muharraq and go through Bahrain Financial Harbour and heading to Seef District,” said Dr. Abdulrahman Al Janahi, adviser for roads to the Transportation and Telecommunications Minister.
The second line will be known as The Blue Line. It will originate at Juffair and travel through Al Fateh and the Diplomatic Area, connecting with the Red Line at Bahrain Financial Harbour, which will be home to the central station. From there, The Blue Line will go to Central Manama Market and Isa Town. The national network is projected to cost upwards of $2 billion and won’t be linked to Saudi Arabia until at least 2023.
Oman Moving Ahead with National Projects
Despite still being committed to establishing its own network connecting to GCC countries, Oman Railways is turning its attention to internal projects such as linking vital mines and ports. Earlier in 2018, the country’s Ministry of Transport and Communications noted that the “connectivity project is proceeding at a slow pace,” and that “commitment […] Depends on the readiness of the GCC countries for each of its linkages.”
Consequently, Oman Railways is now in the planning and development stages of the Line of Metals. Upon completion, it will span 375 kilometers and facilitate the transfer of mineral resources from the Shweimiyah area to the port of Duqm.
United States Firm Overseeing Work in UAE
Unlike the aforementioned countries, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has made considerable progress on its portion of the railway network. The country already operates a 264-kilometer network of lines, which was completed as stage one of the GCC-wide project. This past July, UAE selected the United States-based Jacobs Engineering Group to deliver design and engineering consulting services for the second and third stages of the 900-kilometer network.
The firm will also provide construction supervision throughout the duration of the project, which is anticipated to conclude by 2024. In addition to serving as a link to the other five GCC countries, the network is part of Etihad Rail, which will provide passenger and freight services across roughly 1,200 kilometers in the UAE.
Meanwhile, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority recently announced that 3.2 kilometers of tunneling work had been completed for its Route 2020 metro project, which will also service the GCC Railway. That specific project is expected to be completed by July 2019 as the emirate aims to connect the Expo 2020 Dubai location with other prominent residential and commercial regions. Moreover, a link between the UAE and Saudi Arabia should be constructed by 2021, according to the Federal Authority for Land and Marine Transport.