Only Dh66.3 billion ($18 billion) of public investment in rail projects have been achieved so far in the Middle Eas t and North Africa Region (Mena), home to one of the fastest growing rail markets in the world  with an estimated project value of Dh700 billion (US$190 billion), rail experts said on Monday at a conference on Mena Rail Projects 2012 Summit held in Abu Dhabi.
Julian Herbert, director of product development at MEED Information Business, told the Gulf News that with advent of rapid growth of urbanisation in the past 10 years, GCC states started to look for alternative modes of surface transport represented by the GCC Railway Network which is expected to be completed by 2017.
“The most ambitious project covering the six GCC states is the development of a regional railway network linking them to be a viable solution for passenger and freight challenges which will change the face of Transport and Logistics in the region,” said Herbert.
He said: “About 10 per cent of the investments in the rail projects have been achieved so far. Dubai Metro was built at a total cost of $9 billion, another project in Saudi Arabia cost about $3 billion, a rail project in Egypt cost of $3 billion and other projects in the Mena cost about $3 billion.”
Essam Salim, chairman of IBIS Consultancy and a consultant on rail projects, told the Gulf News that amongst the key challenges that rail projects face in building a seamless GCC-wide regional rail transport network is to develop the six individual country networks according to uniform standards and specifications.
“Transportation modes in the GCC region  would change people’s lives with the various ongoing and planned railway transport projects that would be executed by the governments as such projects cannot be achieved without government subsidies at early stages and later on they can be privatised,” said Salim.
Andrew Price, chief economist, Halcrow, Member, Transport Economists’ Group and former economic adviser, Department of Transport, UK, said: “Rail is crucial for economic and social development in a low carbon world. There are many exciting rail projects in the Mena which require additional rail infrastructure to cater to high levels of transport demand.”
Price added: “ The most significant investments are being made in the Gulf, which is currently the least well served part of the region in terms of rail, but where government coffers have benefited from high oil prices over recent years.”
Price explained that governments are motivated to invest in rail projects to improve logistics infrastructure in an attempt to diversify their economies to connect the rapid growing cities together. Tim Armsby, partner at Evershed, said that some countries require government financial support for rail projects and in many cases these countries “are in dire need of external support”.