By Nadia Saleem, Staff Reporter www.gulfnews.com
Dubai: Following the launch of the Dubai Metro, attention is turning to the various rail projects across the Gulf with a possible pan-Gulf network to connect the major cities of the region.
While the Metro is one of the most significant passenger transport projects, there are others that would bring about changes in passenger as well as freight transport across the GCC. The Dubai Metro is the first of many rail systems that will connect the GCC countries and possibly the whole region.
A proper rail network will help reinforce the region’s position as a major global energy and trading hub.
A solution to the city of traffic jams, the Dubai Metro was launched within four years at a cost of Dh28 billion. The mass transit network, stretching over 75 km, will carry 1.8 million passengers per day by 2020, according to Roads and Transport Authority estimates.
Last summer the UAE capital announced plans for an integrated mass transit system connecting the developments under construction in the suburbs.
Earlier this month, the Abu Dhabi Executive Council said that it is reviewing bids for the 131-kilometre metro rail system. The Abu Dhabi Metro is expected to partially start in 2015.
The entire transport system will include a network of underground metro lines, trams and high-speed rail, part of the Abu Dhabi Surface Transport Masterplan that will help hundreds of thousands of residents to commute among growing neighbourhoods.
The country’s plans to connect the emirates with their respective railway projects are also reaching their final stages, according to the National Transport Authority.
The Gulf’s 36 million residents are restricted to either travel by cars, buses or air. A proper rail network would accelerate cross-border travel, trade and tourism, analysts say.
“The GCC countries now should look beyond the existing mode of transport and ease travel restrictions to facilitate cross-border tourism that will help more movement across the region,” said an analyst, requesting anonymity.
“By and by, we expect Saudi authorities to ease visa restrictions – a major obstacle before these projects take off.
The Gulf region should also look at the possibility of issuing a Schengen-type single visa that will allow foreign tourists to enter the region through one city and travel around as in Europe.”
While the Dubai Metro might lead among light rail systems, a majority of heavy rail projects are in various stages of planning in Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries. In a country where projects might be less creative and swift than in neighbouring UAE, Saudi projects are unparalleled in size in the region.
When individual projects are completed, the governments will work toward connecting the numerous rail systems to complete the network throughout the Gulf.
The GCC network will include one rail line of 1,970 km connecting all GCC countries and Qatar via a bridge.
The second line, of 1,984 km, will stretch between Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and end in Oman.
Last year GCC transport ministers approved a feasibility study for the $12 billion GCC railway.
Under the wider plan, the network would extend from the GCC countries to Jordan, Syria and Turkey. The next move would be a more extensive system linking up with systems providing access to Europe and Asia via Turkey.
Four projects running on track
Dubai: The largest of the Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia has already begun work on four different railway projects. Of these, the focus will be on Landbrigde, the 1,000 kilometre East-West Railway project, running from Jeddah and Damman and bridging gap between the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf.
“Strategically the most important railway project in the GCC is the Saudi Landbridge, as this could ultimately have a major impact on regional trade patterns, with the potential to move goods between the Red Sea and the Gulf in less than 48 hours.
The Landbridge has been held up by financing constraints, however, and it now looks like being a 100 per cent government project, whereas it was originally conceived as a private sector development,” said David Butter, regional director, Middle East and North Africa/ Viewswires Editor, Middle East, at Economist Intelligence Unit.
He said that the Landbridge would provide competition for air transport on internal Saudi routes, “but I don’t see much scope for cross-border railway transport in the GCC.”
The project will consist of two tracks, the first of which will cover 449 kilometres and handle only passengers, while the second will stretch over 556 kilometres and be devoted exclusively to freight. On completion, it is estimated to transport some 300 million passengers per year and one billion tonnes per year. Analysts expect the cost to exceed 10 billion Saudi riyals (Dh9.79 billion).
Saudi Rail Organisation recently issued tenders for the first construction contract on the 500 kilometres Haramain high-speed rail link between Makkah and Madinah. The $7 billion (Dh25.74 billion) project is aimed at providing transport for Umrah and Hajj pilgrims travelling between the two cities and Jeddah. The train will reach speeds of up to 300 kilometres an hour.
“On the passenger front, I would see the Makkah-Jeddah-Madinah railway as the most promising project, because of potential passenger numbers, alongside the Dubai and Abu Dhabi light railways,” Butter said.
Foster and Partners and Buro Happold are currently designing the project’s four stations, under a joint venture. Mouzhan Majidi, chief executive of Foster and Partners, said, “The Haramain High-speed Rail project represents a major investment in sustainable public transport by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with potentially far-reaching social and economic consequences.”
The other of the Kingdom’s rail projects is the North-South Railway Project (NSR). Its planning stage began in 2005 and is expected to complete by next year.
Gulf : Regional plans
Meanwhile, other GCC countries are also planning rail projects.
Last year, the authorities appointed consultants to conduct a feasibility study of a 200-kilometre railway network that will begin in Sohar to connect Birka in north Muscat, and then extending to Duqum.
The country has put forth plans of a $132 billion model city in the northern part of the country, which will include a railway system. With an investment of more than $11 billion t in the construction of the railway, the line will connect Kuwait to the GCC rail network.
The country will also see a series of national railway projects over the next 10 years. Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company, in partnership with Germany’s Deutsche Bahn, has developed a conceptual design for the a national railway system for the country. This will include a line alongside the east coast, connecting Ras Laffan and Mesaieed, a high-speed link from Doha to Bahrain across the Qatar-Bahrain Causeway, a freight link connecting to the GCC railway network.
A Doha metro light rail network within the city is also planned. Additionally, the city of Lusail, will see a Light Rail Transit within the development by Lusail Real Estate Development Company.
Earlier this year, the authorities said they expect the study for the $8 billion railway project to be completed by late next year. The network will be 184 kilometres and will be developed in phases by 2030. The network will include light rail trains, monorails, trams and other systems.
(With inputs from Railway Technology, MEED, Oxford Business Group)