SANAA // Yemen will launch a rail project worth $3.5 billion (Dh12.586bn) in July as part of plans to upgrade the country's infrastructure, an official said in a weekend interview. The 2,500 kilometre passenger and cargo network will run from the Saudi border along the Yemeni coast, passing through the main port of Aden, to Oman, where it will join a network linking the six Gulf Arab countries. Bidding for the main 2,000km coastal line begins in July after Yemen conducted a feasibility study with UN help for the railway so no construction work has yet begun, the transport minister Khaled al Wazeer said. Completion could be years away.
The government is in talks with several railway firms in Britain, Germany, Russia, India, the United States and other countries and will offer the deal on a build-operate-transfer basis for 30-35 years, Mr al Wazeer said. Under such an agreement an investor typically builds and runs an infrastructure project on behalf of a government for a limited time. "We hope to find an investor, that would be the better. If we don't, then we would look for other opportunities and turn to international institutions," Mr al Wazeer said.
The lines will help economic development in the Arab world's poorest country and could boost government efforts to strengthen its control over a large, mountainous country. But the lack of central control could also hinder the plans. Yemen is trying to uproot al Qa'eda militants while fighting a war with Shiite rebels in northern provinces and confronting a separatist movement in the south. The minister said a second inner Yemeni route would link the remote Yemeni provinces Shabwa, Maarib and al Jawf where diplomats say government control is especially weak.
"The population there will benefit from it, there will be development and this will end the economic problems," Mr al Wazeer said, shrugging off worries about instability. Most of Yemen's infrastructure projects depend on international aid. Britain has invited partners to a conference on January 27 to co-ordinate counter-terrorism and aid efforts. The countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain are spending more than $100bn on various rail projects.
The Gulf Arab rail network alone will cost $20-$25 billion as the six oil and gas producers seek to create a similar model to Europe's high-speed rail system. * Reuters