KHALEEJ TIMES, Tuesday, Mar 13, 2018 | Jamadi Al Thani 25, 1439
Back to the rails: UAE, Saudi Arabia to open train link by 2021
The $200 billion-plus and 2,117km-long GCC railway network linking the UAE with
Saudi Arabia will open by the end of December 2021, says a top official.
"By the end of December 2021 we will have a connection between the UAE and Saudi
Arabia," Abdullah Salem Al Kathiri, director-general of the Federal Transport
Authority - Land and Maritime, said on the sidelines of the Middle East Rail
conference that opened on Monday.
The passenger and cargo network connecting the six GCC states was initially
expected to be completed in 2018, but was pushed back to 2021 in the aftermath
of the oil price plunge. The UAE suspended construction of its portion of the
network in 2016, while Oman said it would shift its focus to building its
Last year, Al Kathiri said the 2021 target is a recommendation and there is a
big coordination at the ministerial level to achieve this project timeline and
to ensure inter-operability and avoid fragmentation.
Currently, Abu Dhabi is on track with its Dh40 billion domestic Etihad Rail
project that will link major industrial zones, cities and ports in the UAE, and
will eventually connect with the GCC railway. Upon completion, the Etihad Rail
network will span approximately 1,200km across the Emirates, providing both
freight and passenger services.
The planned combined investments of $30 billion in the UAE's railway networks
include that in Abu Dhabi Metro and Light Rail, skyTran Yas Island, the next
stages of the Etihad Rail national network, the Dubai Metro extension for Expo
2020 and the new stages of the Al Sufouh Tram.
Along with the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia are also pressing ahead with their
domestic rail projects that will offer benefits of health, safety, security and
environment for the society and industry. These domestic networks will be part
of an integrated transport system where connections are relatively easy and the
spread of the network takes people where they want to go quickly and cheaply
relative to the alternative of driving or flying.
In addition to offering state-of-the-art freight services, the UAE's Etihad Rail
network will also provide passenger services. Once fully established, the
passenger network will connect principal centres of population within the UAE,
and subsequently other GCC countries, offering a safer, more efficient, more
comfortable and more environmentally friendly mode of transport. Passenger
trains are expected to carry up to 16 million passengers per year once the
project is fully operational.
According to organisers of Middle East Rail 2018, the UAE along with Saudi
Arabia account for a huge chunk of the $69 billion worth of rail projects under
construction in the GCC.
Speaking at the conference, Khalid Al Sultan, vice-president for infrastructure
at Saudi Railway Company (SAR) discussed the company's railway development plans
in context of the country's Vision 2030. He shed light on the country's three
major railway lines including the Riyadh Dammam Line, North-South Project,
connecting major heavy industry hubs for freight projects, and the 453km-long
Haramain High Speed Railway project linking the holy cities of Makkah and
"SAR will soon be floating tenders for the Riyadh-Dammam and the Land Bridge
Project," he said.
Dr Abdullah bin Mohammed Belhaif Al Nuaimi, the UAE's Minister of Infrastructure
Development and chairman of the Federal Transport Authority - Land and Maritime,
recently announced that a federal rail law had also been approved by the UAE
Dr Al Nuaimi, who inaugurated the Rail exhibition where over 290 regional and
international railway operators, suppliers and contractors are showcasing the
best solutions and innovations, stressed that the UAE has established itself as
a global player in the transport infrastructure sector - a sector that plays an
important role in any nation's progress. He also expressed his pleasure at the
exponential growth in the number of participants as well as the keen interest of
key decision-makers in the railway industry.
The minister pointed out that UAE government has developed a clear vision as
well as a carefully-planned strategy to play a leadership role in the field of
rail transport infrastructure. This will be achieved through regional and
international collaboration, developing and re-shaping policies, and enacting
laws to promote efficiency as well as safety in this vital sector.
"The UAE, thanks to its visionary leadership, is rapidly moving towards further
developing a strong infrastructure in various fields. It has achieved tangible
results in this effort and advanced positions in the Global Competitiveness
Index, where it was ranked fourth in the quality of infrastructure," said the
"We are keen to learn about international best practices and to benefit from the
international expertise, which we believe plays an important role in sustainable
development, especially in light of the transformation towards an economy based
on knowledge and innovation."
A high-profile delegation from Indian Railways, India's national railway system
operated by the Ministry of Railways, will showcase $140 billion worth of
current and future rail projects that Indian government is building to upgrade
country's urban transportation network.