The integrated rail network connecting the six GCC countries is now unlikely to meet its planned opening date of 2017.

Rail plans are developing well in the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, those in Bahrain and Oman are lagging behind.

Although 10 companies had been prequalified for the contract to carry out the feasibility study for Bahrain’s $7.9bn rapid transport network in April 2010, the Works Ministry has decided to relaunch the prequalification process.

Oman’s rail plans have been impacted by the cabinet reshuffle implemented by Sultan Qaboos following the protests in March.

Among the changes made was the dismissal of the National Economy Minister, Ahmed Macki, who also acted as chairman of the railway executive board. Without him, plans are not expected to move forward any time soon.

Meanwhile, rail schemes in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are all progressing well.

The UAE’s Etihad Rail received 12 bids for the civil engineering package in June and an award is thought to be imminent. It is also currently in the tender process for contracts that cover supply of rolling stock, terminal design and maintenance equipment. Etihad Rail expects the first phase of the railway to be up and running by 2013.

GCC railway progress
Country Status
UAE Civil engineering bids received
Qatar Consultancy contracts due to be awarded
Saudi Arabia Bids for Haramain received. North-South minerals line to start operating in August
Kuwait Rail advisory contract expected
Bahrain Prequalification to be relaunched
Oman Stalled
Sources: MEED; MEED Projects

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the region to already have a mainline service and its North-South minerals railway is expected to start operating in August. The railway will transport phosphates and bauxite from the mines in the north-east of the kingdom to minerals processors and refineries in Ras al-Zour near Jubail Industrial City. The kingdom is also planning metro projects for Riyadh and Jeddah, a mass rapid transit network for Mecca and the $7bn Haramain high-speed railway. However, its planned Landbridge project has been delayed for some time due to a lack of financing.

Arguably, Qatar has the most work to do as it has a $35bn integrated railway plan to execute in the next 10 years. The plans include the Doha metro, West Bay people-mover, Lusail light-rail transit (LRT), a high-speed passenger line that will run across the country, a freight line linking the ports down the east coast and the Qatar-Bahrain Causeway project that is currently on hold.

Doha is, however, moving ahead with its rail plans to get planned infrastructure ready before the 2022 Fifa World Cup. A joint venture of the US’ Aecom and Parsons are project management consultants for the Lusail LRT, while the project management consultancy bids for the West Bay people-mover and the Qatar Integrated Railway Project are still being reviewed.

Kuwait is caught somewhere in the middle. It is progressing with its metro project, but a transaction advisory award for its $10bn railway project has been delayed for reasons that are not immediately clear.

It was always going to be a challenge to build six national rail networks simultaneously. Though the GCC railway will not be up and running by 2017, the project is still moving ahead, albeit at different speeds across the Gulf.