With $200bn of rail projects planned or in execution across the GCC region, the rail sector is set to challenge road infrastructure in terms of its contribution to the region’s economy, concluded panellists at MEED’s Mena rail projects conference in Abu Dhabi.

Yet despite the growth in the rail sector, conference panellists highlighted a number of challenges facing projects. In particular the lack of historic experience in rail construction in the region was highlighted.

Amjad Bangash, global head of rail at Bechtel, explained to delegates that the implementation of rail projects across the GCC places a lot of pressure on the available pool of talent with experience in rail projects.

He adds: “There are brand new clients with no legacy of operating metro or rail lines. They are beginning from scratch…[and often] learn lessons the hard way.”

Tahir Rabani, assistant director, head of capital projects advisory at Deloitte, added that it was important for companies to not rush design of rail projects and to ensure that the business plans take in to account the lifecycle costs of projects, not just the cost of implementing the project.

He also recommended that rail companies should not overshoot estimated passenger numbers of rail lines under construction. Rather they should develop a more flexible model, working within an expected range of passenger numbers.

However, John Lesniewski, director of sales and commercial agreements at Etihad Rail, spoke optimistically about the growing impact of the rail sector on the UAE and wider GCC region. He remarked that there was a “lot more freight out there than originally forecast” when initially planning the Etihad Rail project.

“[It will] have a bigger impact on the economy than originally planned,” he said.