Oman will invite bids for the first major engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) packages on its ambitious $15bn Oman National Railway project before the end of the second quarter in 2014.

“We expect the RFP [request for proposals] to be issued by the end of the second quarter next year, with awards of the packages scheduled by the end of the year,” said Raza Ashraf, partner consulting and corporate finance, Grant Thornton , speaking at MEED’s Oman Projects Forum 2013 in Muscat on 29 October.

The first section of the scheme will be about 170 kilometres long, connecting Sohar Port to the UAE border at Buraimi and Al-Ain, where it will link up with the UAE’s Etihad Rail network in Abu Dhabi emirate. The RFP will be for a lump-sum turnkey contract.

The UK-based Grant Thornton was appointed by Oman’s Transport & Communications Ministry to plan the organisational structure of the new Oman Railway Company (ORC), which will start operations before the end of the year.

The planned 2,444km Oman National Railway will connect Oman’s major ports and cities, including Muscat, Sohar, Duqm and Salalah, in addition to linking with the Etihad Rail project.

It will have 46 stations, eight marshalling yards and nine intermodal yards. It will require 12,000km of rail, 23 cubic metres of ballast and 10.2 million sleepers.

The first segment is due to start operating in 2018.

Italy’s Italferr won the contract to develop the preliminary designs for the first phase of the project. The ministry is expected to announce soon the winner of the project management consultancy (PMC) contract.

Ashraf said the World Bank is to be asked to advise ORC about devising a single regulatory model for the entire transport sector.