The regional metro sector is moving fastest. Pictured is the Dubai Metro

The regional metro sector is moving fastest. Pictured is the Dubai Metro

Pace of railway scheme ‘sluggish’

The Gulf has laid out extensive and costly plans to have a region-wide railway network but the question is whether it will materialise within the time frame

October 2015

A report from the region’s leading projects tracking service has drawn attention to tardy progress in the Gulf-wide railway network, which is timed to be operational in 2020.

Meed Projects said in its latest analysis that 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.

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 Madinah, 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,” says Ed James, director of content and 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 $5 billion 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 $7 billion Landbridge rail link between Jeddah and Riyadh off the drawing board for more than a decade,” James added.

However, despite the lack of progress, there are signs that mainline rail development in the region is picking up. Bids were submitted to Oman Rail earlier this year for the estimated $6 billion first phase of its Oman network, while Qatar Rail says it plans to tender the first stage of its $15 billion long-distance passenger and freight line early next year.

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 $11 billion Makkah metro are imminent, while tenders are expected soon for the $13 billion 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.

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