Full steam ahead for Omani railway
The $6-billion railway project being planned by the government, a railway line that will run from the northern border to the south of Oman, is expected to generate more than 70,000 jobs, according to project statistics.
It will also create opportunities for setting up thriving businesses and SMEs for young Omanis in urban areas. There will be at least 20 railway stations along the 1,061-kilometre route from Khatmat Malahah in the north to the eastern town of Duqm during the first phase.
The second phase of the railway project will stretch all the way to the Yemeni border, with a further 20 stations. The government has already received bids from 14 companies to supervise the massive project. Last year, the tender board invited bids for the construction of the project, which is expected to be awarded early next year.
According to government sources, the railway is expected to start operating in 2017, but delays due to the complexity of the project could postpone the launch. During construction, the railway project, according to economic plans drawn up by the Railway Project Commission, will create investment opportunities to the tune of $10 billion.
The railway will link the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabian borders with all seven airports, currently being planned, in the Sultanate as well as four major ports, including major projects in Sohar, Duqm, and Salalah. The government plans to establish a network of business-service points to support the project in every town along the route, which will be run by Omani companies funded by the new SME initiative introduced by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. In January, His Majesty created an OMR70 million Al Rafd Fund to replace the Sanad program to help young people with self-employment.
Oman's railway project is part of the GCC's ambitious 6,000-kilometre railway venture, which will cost the six countries some $100 billion and is expected to boost internal trade.
The six governments face major technical challenges, such as making six national rail systems compatible with each other and building tracks upon the shifting sands of remote deserts.
However, success could have far-reaching effects on economies in the region, cutting their dependence on expensive road and air travel, boosting trade, and even bringing the GCC closer together, politically.