Oman’s Transport and Communications Ministry has awarded the Italian state railway group Italferr a €28m ($37.3m) contract for the consultancy services for the preliminary design of the planned national railway.

The Italian firm was the low bidder for the contract. A further two firms, Germany’s DB International and Oman’s National Engineering Office, were shortlisted for the project. Bids from 12 companies were submitted in May.

The contract award is a major step forward for the railway project, which will cover more than 2,244 kilometres of track and link Oman’s major ports and cities including Muscat, Sohar, Duqm and Salalah.  

The railway has been planned for a number of years, but met with delays in 2012 when the government decided to retender the project.

The deadline for bids for the project management contract is set for 26 August.

The prequalification process for various design and build packages is expected to start later this year.