Railways are a new hope for the region

Railways are a new hope for the region

Railways opening a new era

The implications for public convenience and individual state economies are huge and worth the high investments governments are making for a railway system

01 December 2013

While Saudi Arabia has a railway service operational for a number of years and Dubai’s Metro network is a much celebrated one, it is only now that the Gulf is realising the implications of a full-blow rail system once that occurs.

Yet it is difficult to foresee adequately the radical transformation that will occur in the lives and businesses of people when railway commuting becomes commonplace all over the region. Already, Etihad Rail, developer and operator of the UAE’s railway, has signed deals with manufacturing and logistics firms desirous of using its network to transport goods within and beyond the UAE’s borders. The latest MoU signed was with RSA Logistics (RSA), a Dubai-based third party logistics (3PL) provider.

The UAE’s freight and passenger network is being built in stages. Construction of Stage 1 is said to be well underway with the first trains scheduled to run from Habshan to Ruwais within weeks. A sleeper factory in Mirfa is fully functional and wagons and locomotives have arrived on site. The next stage will be the construction of the links to Mussafah, Khalifa and Jebel Ali ports.

The rail experience is coming at a high price albeit not one that anyone will rue.

Estimates are that construction projects worth $194 billion are currently planned or underway in the Gulf with $30 billion of major rail project contracts awarded in 2013 out of a total project contact award of $108 billion for all sectors, making rail the biggest segment in capital projects, according to Meed, a business intelligence service.

The single biggest investment this year saw $22 billion worth of contracts awarded in June for the Riyadh Metro.

“This year has seen a turning point in the regional rail market,” said Meed editorial director Richard Thompson. “Over the past 10 months, we have seen the region’s ambitions to build metro systems and main line rail networks with more than $30 billion-worth of rail construction contracts awarded so far.”

Dr Ramiz Al Assar, World Bank resident adviser of the GCC Secretariat General in Riyadh, told the Mena Rail and Metro Summit that designs for the $200 billion 2,177 km network will be completed by the end of this year or Q1 2014 and construction is to start in 2014 or 2015.

A contract to study a proposal for a new causeway linking Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, part of the GCC rail project, will be awarded soon.

Saudi Arabia, first to have a railway in the region, operates five round trips a day between Riyadh and Dammam and is examining bids for a contract to double the track on the 390 km Riyadh–Haradh–Hofuf freight line.

A high-speed 450 km Haramain line linking Medina, Jeddah and Mecca is expected to open in 2016.

Saudi Arabia is studying options for a high-speed line between Riyadh and Dammam that will provide journeys of 320 km per hour against 140 km per hour now.

A journey time of between 1h 30 min and 1h 45 min is envisaged compared with the 4h 20 min it now takes on the existing 449 km line.

Saudi Arabia is building a 958 km dual track starting from Jeddah Islamic Port and ending in Riyadh. It will be connected to an existing link between Riyadh and Dammam which will be upgraded. Another 115 km link is planned to connect Dammam with Jubail.  The Jeddah-Riyadh, Riyadh-Dammam (existing but to be upgraded) and the new Dammam-Jubail connection constitute the Landbridge project.

Saudi Railway Company is now implementing the 2,400 km North-South Railway project – a freight and passenger line from Riyadh to Al Hudaitha, near the border with Jordan.

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