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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

Deadline for GCC rail network pushed back three years

The UAE is waiting on other GCC member states to declare their intent before deciding on whether or not to go it alone, says the Minister for Infrastructure Development.
Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, the Minister of Infrastructure Development, said the UAE knows 2018 is not possible, but the deadline may be pushed back further than 2021. Delores Johnson / The National
Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, the Minister of Infrastructure Development, said the UAE knows 2018 is not possible, but the deadline may be pushed back further than 2021. Delores Johnson / The National

The deadline for the GCC Rail network has been moved back three years to 2021, according to the UAE’s Minister for Infrastructure Development.

It could move again, depending on the appetite within each member state for bringing the project forward, said Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, who also chairs the Federal Transport Authority’s Land and Maritime arm.

He said that the decision to shift the deadline to 2021 from 2018 was taken at a meeting between GCC transport ministers in April. He added that it is likely to be discussed at another meeting of ministers by the end of the year.

“We know for sure that 2018 was not a possible date, but we just wanted to have a ceiling,” said Mr Al Nuaimi.

“In principle, we agreed on 2021 ... That is the target. Whether we can possibly achieve or not, that would depend on the internal plan of each country.”

All of the GCC’s countries had initially committed to bringing forward the project to link the six member states by rail by 2018, but as it became clear this target was not achievable, Etihad Rail announced in January that it was suspending tendering for phase two of its network (it has already built a first phase linking hydrocarbon-related resources, but the second phase would have brought freight to Abu Dhabi and Dubai) and cutting about 30 per cent of its workforce.

Following this, Oman Rail also halted plans to award a contract for a first phase of its network from the UAE border at Buraimi to Sohar Industrial Port.

Mr Al Nuaimi was speaking to reporters at a signing ceremony to mark the renewal of a three-year agreement between the UAE’s Ministry of Infrastructure Development and events company Terrapin supporting the Middle East Rail annual conference, the next edition of which will take place on March 7-8, 2017.

He said the suspension by Etihad Rail “was logical because you simply cannot build your part and wait for others to start”.

However, he added that the UAE was not entirely dependent on other GCC states to build its project, stating that it can be “executed either independently or depending on the GCC”.

“If we are to start our own network without looking into a linkage with the GCC we have a different plan. But if we are to link along with them, then we will have to wait and see their outcome.”

He said that he anticipated that other GCC member states will make their decisions either this year or next as to whether they will be able to achieve the 2021 deadline.

“For us, we would like to see a complete network by 2021, but it is a decision that we have very little to input. It’s a decision of the GCC countries if they really want to have plans completed. Our part with the GCC is complete. Now we really need to know if they are as serious as much as we are.”

Speaking about the renewal of its three-year deal with the Ministry of Infrastructure, Jamie Hosie, the event director of Middle East Rail, said that its partnership would help to ensure that capital invested by GCC governments brought ­wider societal benefits.

“It’s quite widely known that there are over 100,000 engineers going to be needed over the next decade to go into this growing industry. We want to be the place where we inspire a young generation of people across the Emirates and across the region so they can come and see a developing industry and how they can get involved in the railway market.”

mfahy@thenational.ae

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