The new GCC railway is a large scale infrastructure project that will connect the six oil rich Gulf State regional neighbours: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the UAE. According to Roland Berger, the network will transform the face of the regional transportation landscape.
The Gulf States are known for their harsh conditions, deserted places and vast topographies. In a forward looking project, entitled ‘The GCC Rail’, a number of regional state networks will be integrated into one 2,117km route, allowing passengers and freight to move from Kuwait City to Omar’s capital Muscat, in one trip. Connecting the Gulf’s intractable distance into one stunning Trans Arabian journey, reviling the Ottoman empires legendary, now defunct, Hejaz Rail Link.
The construction of the rail network involves both regional and interstate projects, with a tentative plan for joint completion by 2018. This will involve the timely completion of large regional projects, the Etihad Railway Network ($11 billion), Riyadh Metro ($23 billion), Jeddah Metro ($11 billion) and the Qatar Integrated Rail Project ($40 billion), as well as the integration of the network which bears a cost of $15.5 billion. The total cost for the whole network is expected to be around $200 billion.
Benefiting the Gulf
The expected benefits from the project are wide ranging. The present mode of transporting cargo is largely done with freight trucks, a mode of transport which, particularly over long distances, can be inefficient, prone to accidents and expensive. A move to a freight train is able to remove 50 trucks from the road and carry 1,000 tons of goods, in addition freight trains reduces the energy costs between 60%-80% over road transport, reduces road congestion and atmospheric pollutants, and costs up to 30% less than road transport.
“The network would help to transform the face of the transportation landscape, benefitting the region as a whole, and diverting traffic from road onto rail, reducing congestion,” says Helmut Scholze, Principal at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. “The development of the trans-Gulf railway system would go a long way to serve the region’s expanded freight and passenger transport needs.”
There are a number of challenges moving forward. The railroad engineers will need to overcome the treacherous desert conditions, shifting sand have historically made rail projects difficult and unfavourable in the region. Besides difficulties with steel, the states diplomats will need to overcome social and legal considerations termed “sensitive issues”, such as, customs, security, smuggling and immigration for expatriates. For the latter a “GCC railway Authority” will be established to synchronise the projects within a shared framework:
“Currently it is the primary role of the ministries of transportation to regulate the railway system, as national railway authorities do not exist yet. The development of these regulatory institutions will be vital for the success of the rail systems,” says Scholze. Which is no easy task, the Gulf States still differ ideologically as much as socially, barriers a joint project may help to overcome.