Visitors looking at the at the models on display by China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation at Middle East Rail conference. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: The 1,200km rail project being built at a cost of $250 billion to connect the Gulf will go forward, GCC assistant secretary general for economic affairs Abdullah Bin Juma Al Shibli told delegates at the Middle East Rail Conference on Tuesday.

In February, the UAE’s Minister of Infrastructure Development, Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, said the project’s 2018 completion date was unrealistic, and declined to comment on whether it would go ahead.

Government spending in the Gulf states has been cut back over the last 18 months amid declining oil prices.

At the rail conference at Dubai International Convention Centre on Tuesday, Al Shibli did not discuss a final completion date, but said the technical specifications and the legal framework of the cross-border regional rail network would be complete by the end of 2016.

“1,200 kilometres of railway will be established,” he said, adding that the GCC was committed to completing the project in accordance with international best practices.

“Some members have already completed their phases,” he said.

“The GCC has pledged ongoing support to this project through partnerships with the private sector.”

In an interview after Al Shibli’s keynote address Joerg Scheifler, Siemens’ Middle East’s senior executive vice-president for mobility, advised companies to be patient.

“In a few years we do see a shift away from individual transport to public transport,” said Scheifler, who unveiled Siemens’ Gulf-specification Hesan AlKhaleej high-speed intercity passenger train at the conference.

“Dubai is a very good example of that. There are many other countries and cities in the region which try now to follow this project landscape — Metro Riyadh is in full swing, Doha is affording itself a metro, Kuwait is looking at a Metro, Abu Dhabi in the future might also have one.

“This project landscape very clearly shows how this trend is now shifting towards a proper public transport, not only taxis and buses but also mass transport.”

While he declined to speculate on a timeline for a recovery in oil prices, he said, “In our opinion the best medicine to counter that is to be patient, hang in there, don’t apply a hit-and-run policy. We are very much sticking to that. Our local organisation is reflecting this: long-term commitment in almost all of the Gulf countries.”

Al Nuaimi, who serves as the chairman off the UAE’s Federal Transport Agency, Land and Maritime in addition to his ministerial position, in his opening address to the conference said that Gulf states must “ensure we have rail networks of high quality: reliable, safe and secure — and enhance road services as well.”

He too did not mention any revised timescale for the Gulf Rail project.