Another equally ambitious GCC railway is also preparing to join the growing list. Aimed at connecting Kuwait in the north with Oman in the south via Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE, the GCC railway will revolutionise transport in the region.

But while the scheme’s advantages speak for themselves, getting the project off the ground will be more difficult. Several issues political, financial and technological need to be resolved before any work can begin.

So far the project has only crept forward. Under the aegis of the GCC technical committee a pre-feasibility study was carried out in 2004 by a US/Kuwaiti team of Parsons Brinckerhoff and Global Investment House. Now, nearly 18 months after the go-ahead was given, five consultants have been prequalified to conduct a one-year feasibility study. Trainspotters should not hold their breaths. The GCC railway is not going to be operational for at least five years.

Co-ordinating the scheme among six different governments, who each have a different agenda, is the biggest stumbling block. Not all are keen on the prospect of free and quick movement across their borders. Fewer still are eager to see increased commuter
mobility between one state and another. Border checkpoints will also be an issue. GCC states will most likely have to agree on passport controls before passengers get on the train to save considerable delays during the journey.

It is still unclear how the project will be financed. Creating a supranational legal framework for private investment will cause myriad delays, while having it conventionally financed by each member state is bound to raise the question of how much each one should pay. Subsidising fares may prove inevitable, but again, who should pay?

On the technical side, the states will have to determine the railway gauge to be used and the routes’ precise alignment. The Parsons/Global study came up with two routes linking Muscat with Kuwait City: one taking in Bahrain and Qatar, the other not. Although the former will prove more costly, it is likelier to provide a higher rate of return.

Ed James