Salem Ali Al Zaabi (left) and Mariam Ahmad Jumaan speak at the conference. Image Credit: Courtesy: Four Communications

Dubai: Rail passengers will be waiting until at least 2020 to travel on the UAE’s national rail network — two years after it is to be completed in 2018, the country’s regulators said on Tuesday.

The UAE is building a 1,200-kilometre rail network connecting all seven emirates and the country with Saudi Arabia and Oman.

“We will try to make it ready [for passengers] by Expo 2020,” Federal Transport Authority Director General Salem Ali Al Zaabi told reporters at a regional rail conference in Dubai.

In March 2015, the UAE Minister of Public Works Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi said transport freight was the priority for rail in the country.

The national rail network is part of a wider Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) rail that will connect all six Arab Gulf states; Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.

The GCC states previously agreed to connect their rail networks by 2018 but this is now widely perceived as impossible. Most countries have not yet started construction and there are concerns weak oil prices could be affecting the ability of some regional governments to fund major projects.

On Monday, Al Nuaimi said the GCC states would meet on October 15 to discuss whether the regional project could be completed on time.

But any changes in regional networks will not affect the UAE, Al Zaabi said.

“We are on schedule … the UAE is moving forward with the project,” he said.

Al Zaabi also said tenders will be issued to link the UAE to Oman after it was raised at the conference that the tender process for the UAE-Oman link had been cancelled.

The first 264-kilometre phase connecting Shah and Habshan in Abu Dhabi to Ruwais has been complete for some time and is already being used for commercial purposes. The next phase is a 638-kilometre network-connecting phase one to Mussafah and Khalifa Port in Abu Dhabi, Jebel Ali in Dubai and to the Saudi and Omani borders.

Etihad Rail, 70 per cent owned by the Abu Dhabi government and 30 per cent owned by the federal government, is overseeing the estimated Dh40 billion network.

Bahrain, which will have the smallest rail network of the six Arab Gulf states, is still committing to connecting to Saudi Arabia along the existing King Fahd Causeway by 2018.

“We are committed like the rest of the GCC to see this project see’s the light of day,” Mariam Ahmad Jumaan, Bahrain’s Undersecretary, Land Transportation & Post at Bahrain’s Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications, told Gulf News.

Bahrain is waiting for on a feasibility study on how to construct the Bahrain-Saudi Arabian link and no decision has been made on when tenders will be issued or when construction would start.

The feasibility study has already determined that a public-private partnership (PPP) “is a viable option,” Jumaan said.

There is no date on when the construction will start on the second phase of the Bahrain’s network, which will connect the King Fahd Causeway to Khalifa Bin Salman Port and to the to-be-built Qatar-Bahrain causeway, she said.