Gulf countries on fast track


By Shafaat Ahmed

A total of around 10,000km of railway that includes national railway projects, metro, monorail and tramways have set the mass transit system rolling in the GCC countries at an estimated cost of $106 billion.

Dubai metroThe projects, which are currently at various stages of planning, construction and implementation, are being showcased at the 59th UITP Congress and Mobility & City Transport Exhibition.

Indicating a major shift in mobility trends across the region, the projects are touted as the inspiration from the success of Dubai Metro and the fruits of UITP’s push for doubling public transport not just in the region but throughout the world.

However, this doesn’t mean that the road transport has fallen out of favour. Though cars are still one of the favoured means of transport, there is also a growing impetus for buses in the region. Around $70 billion are also being invested for developing road infrastructure and bus mobility in the Gulf.

Interestingly, it is the rail that has set the Gulf moving. The GCC will have two separate networks of 1,970km and 1,984km each connecting different countries of the bloc at a cost $15b. The first line will connect all GCC countries with Qatar via a bridge, while the second line will connect Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman.

The project is currently at an advanced stage of planning and work is likely to start soon.

“The amount of investment we see in rail projects in the region is phenomenal, it shows that our efforts are bearing fruits. The region is going in the right direction as far as mobility is concerned,” said Alain Flaucsh, President of UITP.

It seems the region is heeding the call with Saudi Arabia alone building around 4,000km of railway, which includes the Riyadh monorail project and the Haramain High Speed Rail that connects the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah via Jeddah and are already under construction.

Other projects include the 1,000km land bridge and the East-West Railway project. There are separate projects devoted both for freight and passenger transport and once completed are expected to lift one billion tonnes of goods and 300 million passengers per year, respectively.

Also not lagging behind are Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, who combined together are investing around $30 billion in railway in the next 15 years.

Kuwait alone is investing $11 billion in the railway that will connect with the GCC network, while Bahrain is investing $8 billion to build a 184km network that will include monorail, light trains and tramways.

However, it is Qatar that will see the fastest growth in rail transport in the region. It is planning to complete a nationwide network before the start of FIFA World Cup 2022. The country will have four separate projects that will include metro line, a high speed line connecting it with Bahrain, a freight line and a nation system connecting with other GCC countries. The total cost is estimated at around $25 billion.

Coming into the fray also are the 131km Abu Dhabi Metro and the UAE’s very own Etihad Railway.

The $11 billion Union Railway project is divided into three phases and stretches up to 1,200km.

“Work on the first phase of the project that connects Shah, Habshan and Ruwais will start this summer and will be ready for operations by the end of 2013,” said Omar M. Khaled, Assistant Marketing and Communications Manager at the Etihad Railway.

He said that the route will be used to transport granulated sulphur for ADNOC.

He added that the work on the second and third phases, that will connect Abu Dhabi with Dubai and rest of the emirates respectively, will start next year.