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Gulf leaders giving rail megaproject 'unprecedented attention'

The ministries of transport across the region have been mandated to implement the $200 billion project

DUBAI:  The Middle East Rail event kicked off on Tuesday morning in Dubai, with fresh attention on the $200 billion megaproject Gulf Rail.

Opening the conference, Abdullah Al Naimi, Minster of Infrastructure Development and Chairman of the Federal Transport Authority, highlighted the importance of 2020 as a target for executing these plans.

“The importance of that year is pushing everyone to look in to the role of land transport. We’re embodying these needs with our plans for the rail networks,” he said.

Also speaking at the opening of the event was Abdul Al Zayani, General Secretariat of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). He outlined several measures that had been implemented to ensure that plans for Gulf Rail went ahead smoothly.

According to Al Zayani, his office has mandated an international group to conduct an in-depth study on the best ways to effectively implement this expansive rail network.

“The ministries of transport across the GCC have also been mandated to implement the project,” said Al Zayani to a room of dignitaries, including transport ministers from Egypt, India, and the United Kingdom.

“This strategic project is gaining unprecedented attention from the leadership across the GCC,” he added.

Gulf News reported in January 2017 that the deadline for the rail network had been pushed back three years to 2021, amid tighter government budgets that have been squeezed by low oil prices.

“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,” Abdullah Al Nuaimi, Minister of Infrastructure Development, said at the beginning of 2017.

The most senior figure on the Gulf Cooperation Council struck a much more unified tone, however, speaking about the coordinated vision of the Gulf leaders driving the desire for a railway network that connects all six member countries.

“[I am] coordinating with all member states to effectively follow up on what has already been accomplished in this project,” he said.

Both Al Zayani and Al Naimi spoke of the need for rail networks as a means of economic diversification, promoting both trade and the free movement of services and people throughout the region.

The process of building this greenfield rail project is also expected to generate up to 80,000 jobs across the GCC, according to a Saudi official from the International Railway Academy quoted in 2014.

“The Gulf countries are working harder on public projects that are conducive to local business, and support local SMEs,” said Al Zayani.

“These networks will help our economic diversification and reduce our reliance on oil,” he added.