GCC rail network moves closer to reality

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By Suzanne Fenton, MEED Transport Editor  www.ameinfo.com

The GCC markets had a stellar year in 2011, culminating in a series of multibillion-dollar contract awards.

The major schemes awarded included the main construction contracts for the first phase of the UAE’s $11bn national railway, the $7.9bn Haramain high-speed railway in Saudi Arabia and the public-private partnership (PPP) contract for the expansion of Medina International airport, also in the kingdom.

This year, rail is expected to be the main area of focus in the GCC transport sector. In October 2011, the $898m construction contract for civil and track works for the first phase of the UAE‘s Etihad Rail project was awarded to a consortium led by Italy’s Saipem. Other members of the group include Italy’s Tecnimont and the local Dodsal Engineering & Construction.

In 2012, the group will carry out the design, procurement and construction of the railway infrastructure, as well as the testing and commissioning. It will also be responsible for the earth works and track site grading, bridge structures, communication systems and the development of a depot at Mirfa.

In late November last year, Etihad Rail said the preliminary engineering for the second phase of the project was nearing an end and it would soon be inviting expressions of interest for the second construction contract. The deal is expected to be awarded in early 2012, with construction on the second phase beginning later this year.

Rail projects are also moving forward in Saudi Arabia. The final construction contract for phase two of the Haramain high-speed railway was awarded in mid-2011 and construction will progress in 2012.

Last year also saw the full opening of the Mecca metro in time for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. There are also plans to build a Mecca Mass Railway Transit (MMRT) system, potentially on a PPP basis.

In March 2011, Mecca Municipality appointed the UK’s consultancy firm Ernst & Young and law firm Ashurst as transaction advisers for the MMRT project. Meanwhile, feasibility studies for a light rail in Jeddah were completed in August so this project should move forward in 2012.

With just 10 years left in which to build the rail network required to transport football fans around Qatar for the 2022 Fifa World Cup, Doha will also be prioritising rail projects in the year ahead. Among the key transport contracts awarded in 2011 was the appointment of the US’ Parsons Brinckerhoff in September as the strategic programme manager for the $35bn Qatar Integrated Rail Programme.

The development of rail projects across the GCC is ultimately intended to link the six member states, so that both passengers and freight can be easily and quickly transported around the region and beyond. But the lack of significant progress elsewhere in the bloc is likely to delay the realisation of this vision. More info