The GCC Secretariat will make its final decision on the scope of the proposed GCC Railway by mid-October, paving the way for construction to begin as early as 2010.
However, further delays are possible as the six member states have yet to decide on the regu-latory model for the 1,500-kilo-metre-long railway, which will run along the eastern coast of the Arabian peninsula between Kuwait and Oman.
The feasibility study for the railway was submitted to the GCC Secretariat in mid-September and its recommendations are now being debated.
The study group comprises Canada’s Canarail, French rail firm Systra and Lebanese consultant Khatib & Alami. It recommends that a single regulator oversees the project to accelerate decision making.
This is likely to cause tension between the GCC member states over which of them should host the regulator.
Previously, it has been suggestions that each state should have its own regulator to oversee its section of track. However, the study group opposes this, arguing that it could leave each section of the railway progressing at a different rate, with the overall project at the mercy of the slowest legislative process (MEED 16:11:07).
“The speed of the decision-making process is one of the biggest issues,” says one source at the study group. “So it would certainly be best to have a single operator, while each country is responsible for building its own section of track.”
The UAE is expected to begin work on its section of the track first, with planning for a UAE-wide network that will link with the GCC project already under way.
The study group source says the entire rail network is unlikely to become operational until 2016 or even 2017, rather than the 2015 date that was originally targeted.
“This is a very political issue and a lot can change in the next few weeks,” says the source. “The target is still to start work in 2010, but this depends on many factors.”
The six GCC states have also yet to decide on how to share the cost of the project, but are likely to approve a plan for each country to shoulder the cost of the line within its own borders.
The study group recommends there should be a single-track line for most of the route between Kuwait City and Muscat.
The one exception will be the route from Dubai to the Saudi border where a double track is being proposed to cater for heavy passenger volumes.
In February, the GCC agreed to extend the line along the coast of Oman from Muscat to the Yemeni border, which will add a further 1,000 kilometres to the route (MEED 1:2:08).
However, a separate study for the route between Muscat and the Yemeni border has not yet been completed.
The study group began work on the Kuwait to Muscat study in September 2007, studying the topography of the planned route and potential traffic volumes.