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Gulf Rail project gathers steam
March 12, 2016, 4:59 pm
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The 2,177km long Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)railway project, to be built at an estimated cost of $250 billion and connecting all six nations of the GCC, received a boost last week with Abdullah Bin Juma Al Shibli, GCC Assistant Secretary General for Economic Affairs, confirming that the project would go ahead as planned. 

Last month, Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, UAE Minister of Infrastructure Development, had said the project’s 2018 completion date was unrealistic and declined to comment on whether it would even go ahead. In recent months, government spending in the Gulf states have been pruned back amid declining oil prices and prevailing economic conditions.

Addressing the Middle East Rail Conference which was held last week in Dubai, Al-Shibli said that the GCC states were committed to completing the project in accordance with international best practices. Though he did not discuss a final completion date for the project, he said that technical specifications and legal framework for the rail network would be completed by the end of 2016.

The UAE phase of the project, which will be nearly 1,200km long, aims to connect all seven emirates, as well as the country with Saudi Arabia and Oman. Etihad Rail, which is developing the US$11 billion rail network, has completed the first stage of 266km; the second stage of 628km is intended to link Khalifa Port and Jebel Ali ports to the Saudi border at Ghweifat and the Omani border at Al Ain. The final stage will add a further 279km of rail, extending from Dubai to the northern regions of Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah.

Meanwhile, Ali Al-Omair, Kuwait’s Minister of Public Works and Minister of State for National Assembly Affairs, speaking on the sidelines of the Rail Conference, noted that Kuwait has moved ahead with removing hurdles impeding the project. He clarified that owners of cultivated land over which the proposed rail-track had to pass would be compensated.

He noted that the government was keen to remove all obstacles to the project in order to make it attractive to private-sector investors through the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program. The minister added that a Public Authority for Roads and Land Transport had also been formed to monitor the project in Kuwait.

Also at the Rail Conference, technology giant Siemens unveiled the concept for a premium, high-speed intercity train specifically designed for the Gulf region. Dubbed, Hesan AlKhaleej, or Horse of the Gulf, the train’s technology was showcased at the Middle East Rail Conference.

The concept offers intelligent, connected, digitalized mobility and demonstrates how innovation can revolutionize regional transportation by boosting the reliability and efficiency of infrastructure, optimizing throughput and enhancing passenger experience.

The futuristic train is designed to withstand ambient temperatures in excess of 55 degrees Celsius, and incorporates sand-filtering technologies to ensure reliable service in the region’s challenging climate.

“Unprecedented levels of redundancy, especially with regard to air conditioning and power supply, ensure that even in the event of multiple failures the train will be able to continue its journey and protect passengers,” said a Siemens representative.

The train would also be equipped to run on tracks suitable for heavy freight services, enabling mixed-use services to accommodate the varied future requirements of the region’s rail systems.

“The Hesan Alkhaleej is a premium intercity train; our vision of a real alternative to road and air travel in the Gulf region,” said Joerg Scheifler, senior executive vice-president, Mobility, Siemens Middle East.

“Mobility between cities is a key driver of economic stimulus, and while there are already a number of modern city transit systems in the region, we see the need arising for fast, safe, luxurious and efficient intercity services to link these together.”

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