The recently awarded multi-billion dollar contracts for two of the Gulf’s biggest rail schemes signals a turn of fortune for the planned GCC rail network  that hopes to address mounting urban mobility issues confronting the region. Qatar Railways Company awarded design and build contracts worth $8.2 billion for phase-one of its Doha Metro project, while Saudi Arabia’s Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA) signed more than $22bn of contracts for the delivery of the Riyadh Metro. According to MEED, these rail developments represent two of the region’s biggest metro schemes. In Riyadh, contractors will build 176 kilometers of metro lines within five years – an undertaking that even seasoned metro builders say has never been taken on before. The Doha Metro also involves the construction of multiple tracks. Both schemes face a multitude of challenges ranging from land acquisition to traffic management and manpower to financing.With these domestic projects now moving forward from concept to execution, experts say the GCC rail network is closer to forging ahead. Once completed, it will not only help address road congestion but also from a macro-economic perspective, boost economic growth, diversify economies, boost inter-regional trade  and enhance the possibility of major Gulf cities becoming international trade hubs.With such far-reaching implications, the region’s rail network aspiration has become a priority development goal for GCC member countries and a matter of keen interest for international stakeholders. An assessment of the planned regional rail’s progress to date and the way forward will be made by Dr. Ramiz Al-Assar PhD, World Bank - Resident Adviser, Gulf Cooperation Council - Secretariat General, Riyadh (KSA); Ibrahim Al Sabti, Director of Transportation Department, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf-General Secretariat (KSA) at the forthcoming MENA Rail and Metro Summit, organized by MEED Events, and scheduled to take place on October 29-30, 2013 at the Beach Rotana Hotel, Abu Dhabi.Earlier this year, Dr. Al-Assar statedthat the regional network could be operational as early as 2018; he also expects the approvals for the regional authority that will govern the development and management of the railway – including agreements on customs and immigration policies as well as ticketing and profit-sharing mechanisms – will be given in 2014.
Speaking to MEED, Ulrich Koegler, vice-president, at US-based Booz & Co in the UAE, said “I see political will to make it [the GCC Rail Network] happen. I see inter-operability standards are set or being developed and national networks are being pushed forward. The GCC is committed to a 2018 launch of the network. However, financial concerns could potentially slow progress on the project.”Other experts say an operational GCC-wide network might take a few more years beyond 2018; chances of it becoming a reality are better as most GCC countries are striving ahead with implementing the domestic rail infrastructure needed to form the backbone of the integrated GCC rail network.Dr. Amjad Bangash, Managing Director, Rail, Bechtel Ltd (UK), who will be speaking at the summit, says operability and standardization will be a critical issue in the realization of the GCC rail network. “Standards for track capacity and operating practices across countries should be established, and a solution to revenue-sharing challenges must be put forward. These are some of the challenges confronting a project of this magnitude; but also one that can be managed,” he added.A feasibility study into the GCC rail project was concluded in 2009 and the scheme is expected to involve the construction of 2,177 kilometers of track and cost at least $15.5 billion to $20 billion. If all of the metropolitan rail schemes currently planned go ahead, then by 2030, almost every major city in the GCC will have some form of metro or light-rail network. “That presents tremendous opportunities for contractors, which we are keen to explore. With our technical expertise and world class technology, we are confident we can help make these rail projects be at par with global standards,” said said Yiwen Wang, Chief Technology Officer, ZTE MEA Government and Enterprise Business, who will be discussing intelligent rail transport systems equipped by communication & management innovations at the summit..These and other developments will be comprehensively discussed at the MENA Rail and Metro Summit organized by MEED Events. Some 40 speakers and experts will gather at the summit who will share their views on the challenges and opportunities in the rail sector throughout the region