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Gulf States plan Middle East Rail Network

Search ASIA Travel Tips .com 7 December 2004

A Middle East rail network, linking all major capitals across the region could soon become a reality, as more governments look toward developing rail infrastructure as a means of reducing traffic congestion and pollution, and increasing trade and tourism links, according to rail experts.

Plans for a high speed inter-Gulf railway, linking all six Gulf states have already been proposed, and a feasibility study into the project is currently being considered by GCC transport ministers. Other states across the Middle East are now seriously examining creating their own rail network, or upgrading and extending existing lines.

“Over the last few years, we have seen strong interest from governments across the region about investing in rail infrastructure,” said Mourhaf Sabouni, general secretary, Arab Union of Railways. “Some countries are more advanced in their planning than others, but there is a definite movement to develop this form of transportation.”

“In Europe, there is a long established railway system that connects most of the countries on the continent together. In the Middle East, a Gulf-wide railway could be the beginning of a similar initiative here, that would eventually see all major capitals and cities connected by rail,” said Sabouni, who will deliver the keynote speech on the future of an Arab rail network, at the upcoming Middle East Rail Projects Conference in Dubai.

The inter-Gulf railway would see a line extending for 1,984km, starting at the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border and running parallel to the Gulf Coast down to Saudi Arabia and Qatar and on toward Oman. Other routes have been proposed, and will carefully be examined during any feasibility study. Once finished, other lines from countries outside the GCC could be linked, forming an Arab rail network.

Experts predict that a region-wide rail network would make trade between states more efficient, and cost effective, as well as generate increased tourism for the entire Middle East, with travelers from inside and outside the region using rail travel to visit different countries.

“The prospect of traveling across the Middle East by rail is not as remote as it may sound. There is a lot of work to be done, and many issues to be resolved, but within 10 years we could be crossing the region in high speed rail carriages,” Sabouni added.

Sabouni will diver his speech “The Arab railways network: Horizons and Future” at the Middle East Rail Projects conference, organized by MEED, at Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort and Spa from December 12 to 13.

“The development of the Middle East’s rail sector promises to be as exciting as the changes we are currently seeing in the region’s aviation industry,” said Edmund O’Sullivan, editorial director and conference chairman, MEED. “Investment in rail networks in the region has not been at the same level as in other parts of the world, but we are currently witnessing a desire to change that fact, which makes this conference both timely and topical.”

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