MEED Assessment: QRail

02 February 2012

The main challenge will be mitigating the impacts of Qatar’s harsh climate on the rail network

Qatar’s rail network must be built well before the 2022 World Cup commences, to enable adequate trial operations. With just 10 years remaining, Doha cannot afford to fall into its usual habits of lengthy tender processes and slow progress on projects, and there are several obstacles that the country needs to overcome to develop its transport infrastructure.

Financing is unlikely to present the same challenges that most other countries are facing. Rising liquefied natural gas exports and high oil prices are set to continue delivering Qatar huge budget surpluses for the foreseeable future.

The main challenge will be mitigating the impacts of Qatar’s harsh climate on the rail network. The designers will have to contend with sand accumulation on the tracks, high temperatures and humidity. They will also have to factor in camel crossings. Railway lines will have to be cleared of sand frequently and this will require a lot of staff, equipment and maintenance. Qatar has already decided to prevent the build-up of sand by elevating sections of some of its projects.

The Doha metro, much of which will run underground, faces different problems. Building underground means that the lines can avoid roads and utilities, but the nature of the land in Qatar, with its unpredictable karstic limestone, could pose a challenge.

The other GCC member states are also currently planning or developing their own railway networks, which will include passenger lines, freight lines and metro and tram projects.

Saudi Arabia already has a railway, but the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar are all developing an entirely new industry from scratch. But it is arguably Qatar that has the most work to do. At $35bn, its network will be the most expensive to implement. More importantly, it has a very slim time frame in which to plan, design and build its various rail projects. Qatar’s railway network will eventually form part of the wider GCC network.

The GCC railway project will be 2,200km-long and will run from Kuwait to Muscat. It will be single-track for dual use, accommodating both passengers and freight. The second phase of the railway is likely to see a line running on to Yemen.

It was always going to be a challenge to build six national rail networks simultaneously. Although it is unlikely that the GCC railway will be up and running by 2017 as planned, due to slow progress in Oman and Bahrain, the project is moving ahead. To date, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have made the most progress in developing their plans. But with its looming deadline, Qatar will now be racing to catch up.

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