x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

GCC train could hit 350kph

Passengers using a pan-GCC railway due for completion in 2017 could be whisked along at 350kph under the Kuwait to Oman proposal.

The world's fastest train travels at 350kph on the new Guangzhou-Wuhan railway last month in China. Similar speeds are possible on the pan-GCC system under consideration.
The world's fastest train travels at 350kph on the new Guangzhou-Wuhan railway last month in China. Similar speeds are possible on the pan-GCC system under consideration.

DUBAI // Passengers using a pan-GCC railway due for completion in 2017 could be whisked along at 350kph under a proposal for a super-high-speed network stretching from Kuwait through the UAE and on to Oman. A speed of 350kph is nearly 40 per cent of the cruising speed of an Airbus A380 jetliner. Rail authorities from member states of the GCC are to decide this year whether to build tracks for the fast passenger trains, said Ramiz al Assar, a senior transport specialist with the World Bank Group, which is the adviser to the project.

The speed jump from the planned 200kph to a potential 350kph would come at a steep price: the project cost would rise from US$15 billion (Dh55bn) to an estimated $25bn, Mr al Assar said. A detailed engineering design, expected to be completed in March, will look at the requirement for faster trains and will be presented to GCC member states the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Should the decision be taken to run the high-speed trains along the 2,200km line, it would open up the possibility of travelling from Kuwait to Oman in a little more than six hours in one of the fastest trains in the world.

However, Mr al Assar, speaking on the sidelines of the Rail Infrastructure Middle East 2010 conference in Dubai, said the super-fast trains could not become a reality until "traffic studies indicate there is a viability of moving to that speed". A decision has already been taken to operate both freight and passenger services using 200kph diesel trains, he said, adding that the decision to go to 200kph "is an educated decision based on a thorough feasibility study".

"The 350kph is only to do with the passenger traffic and can only be implemented when the heads of the member states see there is some potential or benefits." He said the planned railway would be built to handle greater speeds, making it possible to upgrade to a 350kph train. The member states endorsed the construction of the railway at the annual GCC summit last month. Under a tentative schedule, consortiums bidding to design the rail network will be screened in May and contracts awarded by early next year, Mr al Assar said.

Because of the high initial cost of the rail, governments will be required to finance a portion of the construction and look for private sector investment. While such a big transport project would surely be a money-loser for the governments, Ebrahim al Sabti, the GCC secretary general, said it is "economically feasible". "It is going to reduce pollution, it is going to reduce road accidents, it is going to reduce road maintenance," he said.

Feasibility studies are also looking at the possibility of a spur line from Muscat to Yemen. Meanwhile, Yemen is set to launch in July a 2,000km rail project worth $3.5bn as part of plans to upgrade its infrastructure, Reuters reported yesterday. Last month, the world's fastest long-range train was launched in China, linking the southern China city of Guangzhou to the central city of Wuhan in a three-hour trip. The train had a top speed of 390kph during testing, with an average speed of 350kh.

mchung@thenational.ae