'GCC rail network unlikely to get green signal soon'
The GCC officials overseeing the project are expected to meet on October 15 to discuss the progress on developing the rail network in the region by 2018.
The Gulf Countries Council (GCC) rail network is unlikely to get a green signal soon to launch the project as per schedule in 2018, according to an expert.
Eduard James, director of content and analysis at Meed Projects, said the GCC states should take an "immediate call" to decide the fate of the long-awaited rail network in the region and intensify efforts to develop the 2,100km track to link the region.
"The ambitious GCC railway track is still in the planning stage and it is an uphill task to meet (the) 2018 official launch deadline. 2020 is a more realistic date, but construction must start soon for that to happen," James told Khaleej Times on the sidelines of Meed's 11th annual Mena Rail and Metro Summit in Dubai.
The GCC officials overseeing the project are expected to meet on October 15 to discuss the progress on developing the rail network in the region by 2018. They are likely to discuss the operational and technical issues hindering the project and may set a new deadline for the project, according to industry insiders.
"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," James said.
To a question, he said the main challenges to GCC rail network are technical due to the desert sand, which constantly blows onto the track. Wadis and mountainous terrain are also an issue.
"Operationally, the GCC states have to agree on a technical standard for the track, train and signalling systems to ensure interoperability. They also have to agree on border and customs controls. Similarly, with lower oil prices, it is not always clear how the network will be paid for," he said.
James said long distance railway 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.
Sharing progress updates on the proposed railway network in the region, he said some work on sections in Saudi Arabia has been done, but dedicated efforts are required to complete the project on fast track.
"The regulatory body has yet to be created, and work still has to be done to overcome some of the operational and technical challenges.
"Qatar, Oman and the UAE have tendered their first sections of the network, and we hope construction on them can start by the end of next year. The official date is 2018, but this is impossible in my opinion," said James.
Etihad Rail project on track
To a question about the $11 billion Etihad Rail project, he said 264km track between Shah Habshan and the Port of Ruwais has already been completed as part of phase one of 1,200km rail network across the UAE. Etihad Rail is successfully running daily trial trains to transport granulated sulphur, he said.
In phase two, he said a 628km track will link Mussafah, Khalifa Port and the Jebel Ali Port as well as Saudi border through Ghweifat and the Omani border through Al Ain as part of the GCC Railway project. The 279km track in phase three will connect the northern part of the UAE.
"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 Oman section," he said.
According to industry insiders, contracts for the Etihad Rail's 628km track in phase two are due to be awarded in 2015 and 2016 that will expedite the work on the ambitious GCC rail network.
"Despite tenders to build the project having been evaluated for more than two years, the authorities decided to re-tender the project in the summer, with revised bids submitted for the main construction packages in September," James said.
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