The Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region is currently one of the world's fastest growing markets for rai l with over $156 billion worth projects planned or under way in the region, a senior official at Bechtel said. Mena region's mainline rail network is set to almost double in size over the coming decades, while metro, tram and monorail track lengths will increase tenfold, said Dr Amjad Bangash, managing director, Rail at Bechtel, one of the world’s leading engineering, procurement and construction companies. The planned projects will provide 34,000 km of rail tracks, covering a landmass of 15 million sq km,  he said. Saudi Arabia has the most projects planned or under way in the Arab region, at an estimated cost of $31 billion. Other markets with more than $10 billion of projects are the UAE and Kuwait with $14 billion worth of projects each and Qatar and Iraq with $13 billion  worth of projects each. Growth in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) rail market will be the main driver of the sector’s growth internationally, said Dr Bangash. Despite the global economic downturn, multi-billion dollar mega-projects planned or under construction in the GCC are propelling this momentum of growth which, according to a recent report by UNIFE (European Rail Industry), will continue until 2018. In the last three years, the sector grew by 9.6 per cent internationally and is expected to continue on the same trajectory until 2018, with a further growth of 16.2 per cent, mainly driven by rail projects in the GCC states, he said. Bechtel, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in the UAE this year, boasts a century of rail and transit experience and more than 12,000 km of track, designed and built. This includes Britain’s first High Speed rail line in London which connects central London to the Channel Tunnel and dramatically cuts travel time between London and the European continent, as well as both multi-billion development programs of Crossrail, also in London and Korea’s High Speed Rail. Dr Bangash, who has been working for Bechtel for 20 years and was recently project director for Bechtel at the Khalifa Port and Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (KIZAD) project in the UAE, said the freight market is a key driver for the development of the GCC rail network. “Rail freight is particularly attractive across long distances,” he explained. “There is potential for significant positive impact on trade and commerce flows. Centuries ago, the Silk Route connected trade routes into an extensive transcontinental network. In the same spirit, the development of the GCC network could have a transformational effect on international trade and commerce in the region,” according to him. Studies show that trains carry freight with nearly ten times the energy efficiency of trucks per ton/mile, he said.