GCC Nations Unite for Mega Railway Project, Boosting Connectivity and Trade in the Gulf

GCC Nations Unite for Mega Railway Projec

Long-awaited GCC Railway set to transform regional transport and economic integration

In a significant development for the Gulf region, the long-awaited GCC Railway project appears to be back on track after facing delays. The initiative, which aims to enhance connectivity and trade across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, received a boost in December 2021 when leaders of the six GCC countries approved the establishment of the GCC Railways Authority. This governing body will oversee the coordination and execution of the project, signaling a major step forward for rail infrastructure in the region.

The GCC Railway project was initially approved by all member states in 2009, but various fiscal pressures caused delays in recent years. These challenges were linked to the drop in oil prices in 2014, as well as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and diplomatic tensions, which led to an economic blockade of Qatar by some neighboring countries from June 2017 to January 2021.

The ambitious plan aims to connect the GCC countries through a 2,177-km railway network. Starting from Kuwait City in the north, the rail line will traverse the coastal cities of Jubail and Dammam in Saudi Arabia before passing through Manama, the capital of Bahrain, and Doha, the capital of Qatar. Subsequently, the line will re-enter Saudi Arabia, continue through the United Arab Emirates, encompassing major cities like Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Fujairah, before reaching its final station in Muscat, the capital of Oman.

Optimism surrounding the project was reinforced in March 2022 when Qatari media reported that construction of the section connecting Qatar and Saudi Arabia would commence soon, with preliminary groundwork, including engineering designs and a work plan, already completed. Reports from regional media in December 2021 suggested that the railway could be operational by 2025.

The development of the GCC Railway holds the potential to significantly improve regional connectivity by reducing transportation time and costs between major GCC cities and ports. This enhancement in trade flows within the bloc is expected to attract potential investors and boost the tourism and entertainment sector, aligning with the broader economic diversification efforts across several countries. For instance, in line with the New Kuwait 2035 framework, the Kuwait Investment Authority announced in December 2021 that it would allocate $830 million for the tourism sector, positioning the country to attract more regional visitors once the rail infrastructure is in place.

The construction of a railway network spanning the entire GCC region signifies a significant step towards regional collaboration and supports the goal of establishing a joint Customs union and common market within the GCC. Moreover, the railway project aligns with individual countries’ efforts to enhance their local transport infrastructure. Recognizing the importance of reducing carbon emissions and improving connectivity, Gulf countries see railways as a crucial component of their future transportation systems.

Kuwait, for example, has made progress in its local transport infrastructure development and has integrated its plans with the GCC Railway project. The country’s Public Authority for Roads and Transportation announced in June 2022 the commencement of the first phase of the project, which includes a tender for the study and engineering design of a 111-km section of the GCC Railway track. This phase is scheduled to be implemented by the end of 2023, and the estimated cost of Kuwait’s portion of the railway is KD300 million ($987 million). Kuwait is also advancing its metro project, the Kuwait Metropolitan Rapid Transit (KMRT), which will eventually connect with the GCC Railway. The KMRT, built in five phases over 160 km with 68 stations, aims to enhance productivity, connectivity, and reduce traffic congestion.

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