After years of procrastinating, the UAE’s infrastructure minister has announced he expects the delayed rail project connecting nations across the Gulf to be operational by 2021, despite a regional political crisis that has divided the region.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar, including transport links, in June, accusing their neighbour of backing terrorism, a charge Doha denies. Two other Gulf Arab states, Kuwait and Oman, have attempted to remained neutral.
Infrastructure Development Minister Abdullah Belhaif al-Nuaimi told Reuters News Agency that Gulf nations involved in the railway project were still aiming to complete the network by 2021.
The planned 2,100 km passenger and cargo network connecting the six GCC states was pushed back at least three years to 2021 before the political crisis erupted. However, in reality the prevarication is not years but decades old. Plans for a regional railway to link all the GCC states first mooted back in the 1980s, have failed to materialise for approaching 40 years.
Logistics experts believe a railway system connecting all six GCC states would have been an enormous advantage to the region but, as one transportation writer told The Middle East this week: “All the countries involved know a railway system is a great idea. It would have been a great idea, back in the 80s, the 1990s, and all the years since then but, as in so many things related to the Gulf area, the countries involved were never able to agree for long enough to bring the idea to fruition. They have bickered their way through four decades and, in doing so, lost all the benefits and the enormous financial rewards they could have been enjoying since the 1980s.”
The UAE suspended construction of its portion of the network in 2016, while Oman said it would shift its focus to building its domestic network.
“It’s going forward. We still have small hiccups here and there but the project, hopefully, is going forward,” al-Nuaimi said without giving details on whether construction has resumed.
Several projects across the region have been put on hold as Gulf oil producers struggle with low crude prices and rising budget deficits.
The UAE network will span the country’s seven emirates from the Gulf of Oman to the Saudi and Omani borders. It would connect to Qatar through Saudi Arabia’s network.