Abu Dhabi: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries' proactive approach to building railroad networks, whose estimated cost is more than $60 billion (Dh220 billion), will help boost cross-border trade, cut freight costs and result in faster movement of cargo and passengers, experts have said.

"Rail is safer, faster, cleaner and [a] more economical mode of transportation. Strong logistics networks encourage trade and provide industry with a competitive advantage," Hussain Al Nowais, chairman of the UAE's newly created Union Railway Company, told delegates at a rail conference organised by Meed.

Construction of the long-awaited rail network that will link the six members of the GCC is expected to start in 2010 or 2011. The cost will be shared among the six Gulf states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

In the UAE, the Union Railway Company has estimated it will cost up to Dh30 billion to build a countrywide network of railways by 2016, with a track length of almost 1,400km.

In Dubai, the cost of building the Metro stood at Dh28 billion for the two lines.

If everything proceeds smoothly, the GCC railway network, stretching 2,000km from the Kuwait-Iraq border to Oman, will come online in 2017.

Strategic location

Union Railway leverages the strategic location of the UAE. It aims to connect the UAE to Oman and Saudi Arabia — connecting to Sohar in Oman through Al Ain, and connecting to Fujairah in the Eastern region.

It will offer two routes that provide alternative access to the Indian Ocean. The railway will also connect to Saudi Arabia through the Guweifat border and greater GCC and Mena regions.

Union Railway expects to transport 30 million tonnes of bulk and break bulk by 2015. At present, rail transport in Saudi Arabia is managed by the Saudi Railway Organisation, which provides freight services on three main lines totalling 1,018km. There are plans to extend the network to the Red Sea port of Jeddah and eventually, to the borders of Jordan, Yemen, and perhaps all the way to Egypt.

Alstom: Dubai Tram contract

French engineer Alstom said it is in talks for a five-year contract to maintain a 550 million euro (Dh2.9 billion) tram system in Dubai. It added that it is close to signing a high-speed rail project deal in Morocco.

Marc Chagnas, vice president of business development for transport in south Europe, said Alstom was also chasing a tender for a multi-billion dollar high speed rail linking Jeddah with Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia.