Rail projects will become an important market for construction companies and technology providers as the region’s governments build infrastructure to boost intra-regional trade.

There are currently $156bn of rail projects planned or under way in the region, according to projects tracker MEED Projects. Nearly 29 per cent of these are currently being built and 12.5 per cent are currently being tendered.

Not surprisingly, the most active countries are those that cover large areas and have comparatively large populations. Iran has the most projects planned or under way with $34bn of schemes, closely followed by Saudi Arabia with $31bn. Other markets with more than $10bn of projects are Iraq with $13bn, Kuwait with $14bn, Qatar $13bn, and the UAE with $14bn.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are also the two countries with the most projects currently being built. Iran has $22bn of schemes currently under construction and Saudi Arabia has $14bn. Algeria has $6bn of contracts currently under way, the UAE has $2bn and Egypt has $1.6bn.

The largest scheme under way is the $8.5bn Tehran to Mashhad electrification project, which involves upgrading the railway for an ultimate speed of 500 kilometres an hour, and carry 20 million passengers a year. Two other major rail projects currently under way in Iran are for metro lines 6 and 7. Both are valued at $4bn.

For new work in the near future, different markets will dominate as smaller rapidly growing countries develop urban rail schemes. Qatar currently had $8.5bn of railway construction contracts out to tender, Iraq has $2.5bn and Tunisia has $2.1bn.

The most significant scheme to start construction over the coming year will be in Qatar. Doha recently invited 18 consortiums to bid for to bid for five packages on its proposed metro network that will alleviate congestion in the Qatari capital and transport football fans across the city during the 2022 Fifa World Cup. The tenders attracted international interest and more than 60 local and international groups attempted to prequalify to bid for construction work.