Qatar Rail’s design and build contracts worth $8.2bn for phase-one of its Doha Metro project signals a “turn of fortune” for the planned GCC rail network that hopes to address mounting urban mobility issues confronting the region, a report has said.
This, along with Saudi Arabia’s $22bn of contracts for the delivery of the Riyadh Metro, represents two of the region’s biggest metro schemes, said Meed.
In Riyadh, contractors will build 176 kilometres of metro lines within five years – an undertaking that even seasoned metro builders say has never been taken on before.
The Doha Metro also involves the construction of multiple tracks. Both schemes face a multitude of challenges ranging from land acquisition to traffic management and manpower to financing.
With these domestic projects now moving forward from concept to execution, experts say the GCC rail network is closer to forging ahead. Once completed, it will not only help address road congestion but also from a macro-economic perspective, boost economic growth, diversify economies, boost inter-regional trade and enhance the possibility of major Gulf cities becoming international trade hubs. With such far reaching implications, the region’s rail network aspiration has become a priority development goal for GCC member countries and a matter of keen interest for international stakeholders.
An assessment of the planned regional rail’s progress to date and the way forward will be made by Dr Ramiz al-Assar, World Bank resident adviser, Gulf Cooperation Council-Secretariat General, Riyadh; Ibrahim al-Sabti, director (Transportation Department) Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf-General Secretariat at the forthcoming Mena Rail and Metro Summit, organised by Meed Events, and scheduled to take place on October 29 and 30 in Abu Dhabi.
Earlier this year, al-Assar said the regional network could be operational as early as 2018; he also expects the approvals for the regional authority that will govern the development and management of the railway – including agreements on customs and immigration policies as well as ticketing and profit-sharing mechanisms – will be given in 2014.
Ulrich Koegler, vice-president, at US-based Booz & Company in the UAE said, “I see political will to make the GCC Rail Network happen. I see inter-operability standards are set or being developed and national networks are being pushed forward. The GCC is committed to a 2018 launch of the network. However, financial concerns could potentially slow progress on the project.”
Other experts say an operational GCC-wide network might take a few more years beyond 2018; chances of it becoming a reality are better as most GCC countries are striving ahead with implementing the domestic rail infrastructure needed to form the backbone of the integrated GCC rail network.
Dr Amjad Bangash, managing director, Rail, Bechtel Ltd (UK), who will be speaking at the summit, said operability and standardisation will be a critical issue in the realisation of the GCC rail network. “Standards for track capacity and operating practices across countries should be established, and a solution to revenue-sharing challenges must be put forward. These are some of the challenges confronting a project of this magnitude; but also one that can be managed,” he added.
A feasibility study into the GCC rail project was concluded in 2009 and the scheme is expected to involve the construction of 2,177km of track and will cost at least $15.5bn to $20bn. If all of the metropolitan rail schemes currently planned go ahead, then by 2030, almost every major city in the GCC will have some form of metro or light-rail network.
“That presents tremendous opportunities for contractors, which we are keen to explore. With our technical expertise and world class technology, we are confident we can help make these rail projects be at par with global standards,” said said Yiwen Wang, Chief Technology Officer, ZTE MEA Government and Enterprise Business, who will be discussing intelligent rail transport systems equipped by communication & management innovations at the summit.
These and other developments will be comprehensively discussed at the Mena Rail and Metro Summit organised by Meed Events. Some 40 speakers and experts will gather at the summit who will share their views on the challenges and opportunities in the rail sector throughout the region.