The UAE along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar accounts for 85 per cent of the $69 billion worth of rail projects under construction in the GCC, where total rail projects, including those in the pipeline, are valued at $240 billion.
"As of January 2017, Saudi Arabia had registered the highest rail construction project value of 50 per cent, followed by the UAE [18 per cent] and Qatar [17 per cent]," said a report by Terrapinn Middle East, organiser of Middle East Rail.
The planned investments of $30 billion in the UAE's railway networks include that in Abu Dhabi Metro and Light Rail, skyTran Yas Island, the next stages of the Etihad Rail national network, the Dubai Metro extension for Expo 2020 and the new stages of the Al Sufouh Tram, said the report.
However, there are a number of obstacles facing new rail projects apart from project finance, such as operational structures, technological expertise and political dynamics of cross-border networks, said the report.
The construction timeline for the 2,117km-long $200 billion GCC Railway Network that will link all six countries had been pushed back to 2021 from 2018 in the aftermath of the oil price plunge.
Abu Dhabi is leading the GCC rail network with its Dh40 billion Etihad Rail project that will link major industrial zones, cities and ports in the UAE, and will eventually connect with the GCC railway. In January 2016, Etihad Rail suspended the tendering process for phase two of the UAE portion of the project. Once completed, this section of the network will connect the country's borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman, in addition to other areas within the UAE.
Freight, urban transport projects
The Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and South Asia hold the largest selection of freight and urban transport projects across the globe, with over $642 billion worth of planned railway investments.
"Within the next 10 years, we will see a complete reform of mobility across emerging markets," said Jamie Hosie, event director of Middle East Rail 2017, a transport and logistics event to be held in March.
"Congested urban roads, increasing populations and the need for seamless trade corridors continue to drive immense investment in the railway sector - and with the effects of low oil prices subsiding, new projects, extensions, upgrades and improvements are back on track," said Hosie.
Key projects expected to be awarded to contractors in Saudi Arabia in 2017 are Zulfi - Al Majmaah Passenger Railway, North South Rail - Waad Al Shimal - Turaif - Al Jouf (ST320), Makkah Mass Rail Transit (MMRT) - Makkah Metro.
For the 11th edition of Middle East Rail, the organising committee has extended its project focus to new markets, including Central Asia and Indian Subcontinent, in addition to the Mena region. Over 350 construction and engineering companies, contractors and solution providers, E2E's and international operators, and rail experts will participate to offer their services and play their part in the systems of the future.
The show will be held in partnership with the Ministry of Infrastructure Development and the Federal Transport Authority - Land & Maritime and will once again deliver a conference, hosting over 200 speakers, who will discuss their experience and insights within the rail industry.
"Operators are looking to source new technologies, educate their staff on best practices and find the perfect partners for 2017," said Hosie.
"We have tailored a programme aligned with the growing needs of the industry, providing an unrivalled platform for key players to come together to learn, network and discover new opportunities," said Hosie.
By Isaac John
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