The silence surrounding the status of the planned 2,137-kilometre GCC Railway project is beginning to have an unsettling effect on stakeholders.

“Everyone is silent; no one knows what’s going on,” a source tells MEED.

It is understood that a GCC-level meeting among transport ministers held in December did not result in a decision to announce a new timeline for the scheme, whose completion date was originally set for 2018. This timeline is now considered impossible to meet, contractors and consultants in the rail sector agree.

However, the reason for not announcing a new timeline could be to keep the pressure [on project delivery] on, a leading rail consultant tells MEED.

“It is likely they want each country to get started with the domestic segments of the regional rail project, and then with this clarity announce a new target completion date once the construction of these individual projects begins,” says Harj Dhaliwal, vice-president and head of rail for the Middle East and Africa at the US’ Parsons. “What they probably do not want to happen is for the GCC Rail project to lose any momentum at this critical stage as a result of a new target date.”

Recent developments indicate some GCC states have begun taking measures to facilitate the construction of their mainline rail projects, which would link directly with the regional network.

Kuwait has adopted a measure to expedite land allocation for its 464km national railway project, while Oman Rail has recently acquired a public utility status for its second phase. The new status could pave the way for the next phase of the infrastructure to be implemented as a public-private partnership (PPP), and result in a less cumbersome process in expropriating properties and land plots needed for the completion of the yet-to-be tendered phase 2 of the sultanate’s 2,135km national railway project.

The second phase of the UAE’s Etihad Rail network is also being closely watched. Retendered in early 2015, the contract award has been delayed apparently due to challenges in terms of obtaining financing.

 Proposed GCC Rail network by country

Country

Length (kilometres)

Bahrain

36

Kuwait

145

Oman

306

Qatar

283

Saudi Arabia

683

UAE

684

Source: Saudi Railways Organisation

Qatar has begun prequalifying contractors for its long-distance passenger and freight railway, with a tender expected in the first quarter of 2016.

Authorities in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are currently reviewing the alignment options for a rail link over the King Fahd Causeway, which joins the two countries, while proposals for the Bahrain-Qatar causeway link remain on hold.