UAE. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are pushing ahead with multi-billion dollar railway projects, and key contracts are set to be awarded soon as the energy-rich Gulf states seek to boost local infrastructure to meet rising demand.
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, is expanding its railway network by adding 300-plus kilometres of railway lines after commissioning the 1,400-km North South Minerals line earlier this year.
The new lines comprise three projects -- the Ras al Khair to Jubai, the Jubail to Dammam line and an internal Jubail network.
Tenders for the first of these projects will be launched in two weeks, while tenders for the remaining two will be out in December and early next year, Rumaih a-Rumaih, chief executive of Saudi Rail (SAR) told reporters at the MEED rail conference.
"So far we have signed 17 billion riyals (US$4.5 billion)of contracts for our railway projects, from stations to wagons, locomotives and buildings since we started and more will be awarded," he said.
"Expansion is a must to meet our transport needs for freight and passengers as well as for creating an integrated gulf railway."
SAR also plans to award the construction contract for six passenger stations for the North South Minerals line in the fourth quarter, he said, adding passenger operations will start in 2014 between Riyadh and Al-Haditha on the Jordanian border.
The line now serves freight operations carrying 10,000 tonnes in 104 wagons.
Gulf states, under pressure to meet the infrastructure demands of growing populations, have announced multi-billion dollar plans in recent years.
The UAE will start construction work on its US$11 billion federal railways projects before the year-end, with contracts to be awarded within weeks," Etihad Rail chief executive Richard Bowker told the conference.
The first phase of the project will link the port of Ruwais to Shah and Habshan in the western region of Abu Dhabi.
The first train will run in 2013, Bowker said, adding phase two will connect Abu Dhabi to Jebel Ali in Dubai while the third phase will connect the northern Emirates.
Gas-rich Qatar is also pressing ahead to build a US$35 billion countrywide railway network ahead of the soccer world cup in 2022. The 350-km network, which includes a metro in Doha, a country-wide rail line and a light rail is scheduled to be complete by 2020, said Geoff Mee, deputy CEO of Qatar Rail.
The first construction contracts, which include nine packages for the metro and elevated railway line, will be awarded next July. "We are on track and we are going to the market place in early 2012 to pre-qualify companies," he said.
The metro will account for about 50 percent of the total project cost, he said, adding the project was fully financed by the government.
"The railway is important for trade between Qatar and Saudi and the rest of the Gulf and once you have it, everything is possible," Mee said.
A planned gulf-wide railway network is in the design stage, with construction to commence in 2014, Rumaih said.