EXCLUSIVE: Qatar crisis highlights GCC railway challenge

06 June 2017

Regional railway project will require compatibility and transparency

The unfolding crisis that exposes the fractious relationship between Qatar and the rest of the GCC states validates the decision of Oman Railway Company (Oman Rail) to go ahead with a plan to implement a domestic railway line rather than wait on the other GCC states to start work on their segments of the proposed regional line.

While funding remains the key issue for the scheme to proceed, a regional railway will require compatibility and transparency in terms of customs and immigration procedures, fees and databases, among others, between the six states.

Sources tell MEED such a task is more complicated than it appears due to several reasons, including the presence of red tape at border crossings that can impede trucks and potentially trains as well.

It must be noted that the GCC railway scheme was conceived partly out of the need for a safer and cheaper option to distribute freight and containers across the Middle East compared with using road or sea routes.

However, since most of these containers currently enter the region through Dubai’s Jebel Ali port, it appears a GCC rail network, which aims to connect ports across the region, could also disrupt how the existing supply chain works.

Despite such challenges, the GCC secretariat has maintained that a regional railway line will facilitate tighter economic and political integration among the GCC states. Transport authorities in Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also confirmed repeatedly that the project is moving ahead, although a source told MEED earlier this year that a unanimous decision has yet to be reached among the six states about the project’s new timeline.

While the recent crisis shows the difficult challenges the scheme has to overcome, some insist the project could still survive.

“All will revolve around how long this crisis lasts and I imagine the GCC railway project is not high on the list of priorities in people’s minds,” a source tells MEED. “Either way, Qatar’s railway connection to the GCC is a fraction of the whole network and is not a link that would prevent the rest of the [line] from being constructed and operated.”

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