Trans-Gulf railway opening date of 2018 no longer realistic: UAE minister

The 2,100 kilometre passenger and cargo railway would run from Kuwait down the Gulf coast

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A 2018 target to open a transnational rail network in the Arabian peninsula is unrealistic and the six Gulf countries will meet in Riyadh next month to discuss a more plausible launch date, the UAE’s infrastructure minister said on Wednesday.

The 2,100 kilometre passenger and cargo railway would run from Kuwait down the Gulf coast and through the United Arab Emirates to Oman, with lines connecting to Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s interior and Red Sea coast.

The project, costed at $30 billion in a 2011 report by consultants Frost and Sullivan, has suffered from technical and bureaucratic delays since its announcement last decade, with the completion date already shifted to 2018 from a year earlier, regional media reported in 2013.

Now even that later date appears unachievable.

“We know that 2018 is not realistic,” Abdulla al-Nuaimi, UAE minister of infrastructure development and chairman of the Federal Transport Authority, told a news conference in Dubai, saying he had met ministerial counterparts of the other Gulf countries in Doha in late 2015 to re-think the timetable.

“We’ve asked the ministers to come up with a realistic program,” said Nuaimi.

He said the plans had not been modified, but declined to comment when asked what would be a more realistic opening date or whether he had any doubts that a pan-Gulf train network would become reality.

Gulf transport ministers will meet next month in Riyadh for further discussions, said Nuaimi.

A sustained slump in oil prices has dragged the finances of governments in the region into deficit, prompting them to slow construction plans in some areas.

In January, state-backed Etihad Rail suspended a tender to build the 628 kilometer second phase of a rail network within the UAE.

This would have extended an existing 264 kilometer line transporting sulphur from Abu Dhabi’s interior to the coastal industrial city of Ruwais, as well as to the Saudi and Oman borders and other parts of the UAE including downtown Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

That prompted Oman’s transport minister to this month warn his country may change its railway plans to facilitate Oman’s seaborne exports, rather than using its trains to distribute imports via the Gulf network.

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