The GCC Secretariat and the UAE’s Federal Transport Authority (FTA) have sought to reassure the market that they remain committed to the plan of building a mainline railway carrying passengers and cargo that links all GCC member states.

Delivering a keynote on behalf of Abdullah Salem al-Katheeri, FTA general director, at the Mena Rail and Integrated Transport Summit in Dubai on 9 November, David Quastel, rail and safety expert at the FTA, said the UAE’s mainline railway “might be running behind schedule, but it will reach its destination”.

“There is a lot going on in terms of Etihad Rail’s second phase,” Quastel told MEED, but added that he is not authorised to disclose details just yet.

Ibrahim al-Sabti, senior adviser for the transport department at the GCC Secretariat, said funding is the only factor that is holding back the GCC railway network project. “Every rail organisation in the GCC is looking at the best funding option, most likely public-private partnership (PPP),” Al-Sabti said.

Al-Sabti said they are continuing to secure commitment from both the government and private sectors to ensure the development of the region’s rail industry.

Transport ministers across the region are understood to have agreed to move the target completion date for the GCC railway network from 2018 to 2021. The target date is expected to be finalised at the transport ministers’ meeting before the end of 2017.

The FTA said it is cooperating with other GCC member states in formulating common technical, operational and institutional guidelines to enable the vision of a seamless and integrated regional rail network where the rolling stocks need not stop at national boundaries.

Some experts are confounded by the lack of major development on the GCC railway and other mainline projects in the region over the past year. “The economic benefits are huge and obvious and it has the potential to bring the GCC region together politically and economically,” one executive tells MEED.

Apart from allowing mass transport of goods and passengers more securely at more affordable rates, the GCC railway network is expected to create employment for thousands of GCC nationals.