A trial run of a freight train on the Etihad Rail line in Al Ruwais. Work on the first phase, which stretches 266km, is complete. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Dubai: Completion of the GCC rail network will ease travel in the region, with proposed passport-free travel being a possibility, Gulf News has learnt.

The 2,177km-long regional network is expected to be up and running by 2018, with the design of the project finalised and work beginning this year.

“The idea of introducing the railway is to ease travel across the region. A proposal was made at the GCC ministerial-level meeting last October to introduce passport-free travel for all, including expats and locals; hopefully it will be approved,” said Dr Abdullah Bel Haif Al Nuaimi, UAE Minister of Public Works and Chairman of the National Transport Authority (NTA). Al Nuaimi spoke to Gulf News on the sidelines of the press conference yesterday to announce the Middle East Rail conference, which will be held on February 4-5.

He added: “If the proposal is approved, and I believe it should be approved, people will be able travel on trains across the GCC with just their national IDs, an Emirates ID in case of UAE residents.”

The much awaited railway service for passengers across the GCC, including the UAE, is expected to begin in 2018.

He said progress is being made on the mega project and all six countries are cooperating to achieve the goal.

“Oman is working on its own national network, Saudi Arabia is also working on a nationwide rail network and in UAE we have already completed phase one of the Etihad Rail. Hopefully, other countries will begin work and all of us will align our projects to complete the GCC railway,” Al Nuaimi stated.

Talking about the 1,200km Etihad Rail, he said work on the first phase, which stretches for 266km, has been completed and freight services will begin very soon.

Phase two of the Dh40 billion project is expected to be completed by 2016 and the third phase will finish by 2017. The network will spread across the entire country from the Abu Dhabi-Saudi Arabia border to the Oman border, connecting all major cities, ports and industrial zones within the UAE.

Interestingly, NTA, with the help of industry experts, has formulated a new set of regulations that will govern the rail industry in the UAE. The law will be submitted to the cabinet by March for approval.

Al Nuaimi said that the law will provide a legal framework for the operations of railway in the country and will deal with every aspect, including passenger transport, fares, freights, border crossing as well as passport-free travel.

Talking about the two-day Middle East Rail Conference, Al Nuaimi said: “The conference will be a good opportunity for all of us in the region to see the latest in rail technology and gain international expertise. It help the regional rail industries as 125 companies from 60 countries will showcase their products.”

The conference will host 80 seminars on different subjects related to the industry and will also give an update on the progress of railway projects in the region.