The UAE Cabinet is expected to issue a document before the end of 2017 that will grant private sector companies the same rights and privileges as the public sector in engaging projects requiring financing.

The document is expected to plug the gap created by the absence of a federal-level public-private partnership (PPP) law.

“This document will make financing less of an issue and allow the private sector to engage on an equal basis as the public sector,” Abdullah Belhaif al-Nuaimi, UAE Minister of Infrastructure Development and chairman of the Federal Transport Authority (Land and Maritime), told MEED’s Mena Rail & Integrated Transport Summit in Dubai on 8 November.

Al-Nuaimi said he is confident the cabinet will approve the document before the end of the year.

Al-Nuaimi also confirmed that the GCC transport ministers have agreed in principle to link up their domestic mainline rail networks to form the GCC railway by 2021, although he added that 2021 is a moving target.

Consultants, contractors and project owners across the region have been waiting for an official announcement from the GCC Secretariat and the transport ministers in terms of a new timeline for the 2,137-kilometre rail network that will link the GCC states to facilitate trade and passenger movement.

Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Rail suspended the tender for the second phase of its mainline rail network, and reduced its workforce by 30 per cent in January. In May, Oman announced suspending or delaying awarding the contract for the first segment of its national rail project. Oman Rail’s decision was believed to be as a result of the cancellation of Etihad Rail’s phase 2.

The original scope of the second segment of the Etihad Rail was to involve building rail lines in Abu Dhabi emirate between Ghuweifat and Ruwais, a line to Jebel Ali in Dubai and a link to Al-Ain, where it would link up with the Omani railway.

Segment 1 of the Omani railway was to run 207km between the Sohar port and Buraimi on the sultanate’s border with the UAE.

Saudi Railway Company (SAR) said in June that it was in the process of completing the study for its part of the railway. Kuwait is awaiting final approval from the government on its national railway project, while Qatar Railways Company has postponed releasing the tender for its long-distance passenger rail to 2017.