Sunday, December 7, 2014

Saudi Making Rail Tracks Across the Gulf...

Passenger trains on the new GCC Railway Network connecting the six member countries will travel at 220kph while freight trains will travel at 120kph according to a press release by the GCC Secretariat General.
The network will link Kuwait to Oman via Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Qatar and is expected to be 2117km long. Some countries are further along than others with construction of the network, with the UAE, Qatar and Saudi having built track for their own networks already and construction yet to begin in the other states. Only Saudi Arabia has begun construction of the GCC Railway Network link lines, with the rest either planning to start soon or still preparing tenders.
The USD $15.4 billion network is set for completion by 2018. Many people in the region have expressed their disbelief at the timetable and even the ability for all member states to cooperate to build a network of this size. However the timescale for the construction phase and date of operation has not changed in some time despite delays in individual countries’ construction.

A select group of government officials and oil industry executives was recently invited to travel on a new stretch of railway running deep into the desert interior of Abu Dhabi, and close to the Saudi border. The Etihad railway is eventually planned to cover 1,200 km, and will be part of a vast rail network across the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC). The new railway will revolutionise trade, industry and passenger traffic across the region, as well as providing billions of dollars of business for construction companies, rolling stock manufacturers and suppliers of electronic signalling and control equipment.

The Etihad railway was originally designed as part of the Shah sour gas project, which will produce large quantities of sulphur as a by-product of removing toxic hydrogen sulphide. The sulphur will be transported along a 264‑km track from Shah to the Habshan oil and gas processing centre south-west of Abu Dhabi city and to the Ruwais industrial zone, on the western coast of the emirate. The line is scheduled to be fully operational by the end of this year, when the Shah field is also set to start up. A second sour gas project is being undertaken at Bab, between Shah and Habshan, by a venture including the Royal Dutch/Shell Group (Netherlands/UK).

Tendering under way for second phase of Etihad railway...
The main contract for the first phase is being carried out by a consortium of Saipem and Tecnimont, both of Italy, and UAE-based Dodsal Engineering. The seven SD70ACS locomotives were ordered from US-based EMD, and the 240 covered hopper wagons are coming from China State Railways. Tendering is under way for the second phase, comprising a 628‑km line running from the Ghweifat border crossing into Saudi Arabia in the west to the Al Ain border point with Oman, in the east, with a spur running north up the Abu Dhabi coast to Dubai, via the new Khalifa Industrial Zone in Abu Dhabi. This phase (which will include the coastal section of Phase 1) is due for completion in 2017, and will form an integral part of the planned GCC-wide railway, for which the target completion date is 2018. The final phase of Etihad will be a 279‑km line connecting the system to the northern emirates.

The UAE section is the largest in the GCC network, which is planned to run from Kuwait to the southern Omani port of Salalah. This section is also likely to be completed first, as progress has been slower in the other GCC member states, although both Saudi Arabia and Qatar are forging ahead with major rail projects as part of their own national development.

North-south railway in Saudi Arabia now almost complete
In Saudi Arabia the main sections of a north-south railway carrying phosphates from the Jalamid mine, near the Iraqi and Jordanian borders, and from the Zubirah bauxite mine, north of Riyadh, to the Ras al‑Khair industrial city on the Gulf are now complete. Work is continuing on sections designed to transport passengers from Qurayyat, on the Jordanian border, to Riyadh. The total length of this railway is 2,750 km. It will be operated by Saudi Railways Company, a commercial venture owned by the government's Public Investment Fund (PIF), under a contract from the Saudi Railways Organisation (SRO).

The PIF is now also handling a project launched more than ten years ago under the name of the Saudi Landbridge, a 950‑km east-west line designed to run from Jeddah to the Gulf port of Dammam, via Riyadh, with an additional 115‑km spur from Dammam to the industrial city of Jubail. The project was originally conceived to be run on a private franchise basis, and in 2006 SRO selected Tarabot, one of four bidding consortia, for negotiations about a contract to build, equip and operate the line. However, the feasibility of applying a private investment model had come into question. The main sticking points included the extent of government subsidy, the availability of guarantees from the Ministry of Finance, the duration of the franchise and the risk of the developer becoming embroiled in legal suits over the acquisition of land for the railway. The 2008‑09 global financial crisis was the death knell for the Landbridge as a private scheme, as it rendered it highly unlikely that it could secure project finance.


Signalling and communications
The entire 2,400km rail route will be equipped with a centralised traffic control (CTC) signalling system. In addition, the industrial rail line will be equipped with a computer-assisted manual block system.
Rolling stock
The passenger route from Riyadh to Al Haditha will accommodate trains travelling at 250km/h but this will be limited to 160km/h. The freight trains will be running at a speed of 80km/h when loaded and 100km/h when empty.
The North-South Railway line will deploy 25 diesel locomotives with 4,300hp engines. Each locomotive will be 3km long, with 160 wagons and each wagon will carry 100t of minerals. Of the 668 wagons, 524 will be used to transport phosphate.
Government revives plans for Landbridge..
The strategic case for the Landbridge remained strong, however. The railway would cut the overland journey between Jeddah and Riyadh by half, to six hours, and would allow goods to reach Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province from Jeddah within 24 hours, avoiding the need to enter the Gulf. There would also be opportunities for transhipment via the Gulf port of Dammam, as well as the development of passenger services. The government decided in 2011 to revive the project as a public investment scheme, and in September 2013 the PIF awarded a contract to two US-based consultants, Parsons Brinckerhoff and Fluor Corporation, to provide project management and consultancy services for the project over a period of eight years.

In the meantime, railway contractors are currently working on projects in Saudi Arabia worth more than US$30bn in total: the 450‑km Haramein railway linking the holy cities of Mecca and Medinah, via Jeddah, being carried out by a Spanish-led consortium; and a six‑line metro and light rail system in Riyadh, being carried out by three consortia, led by Spanish, Italian and US companies respectively.
Qatar's rail plans could be scuppered by cutbacks. Meanwhile, Qatar has announced plans for more than US$40bn worth of metro and railway projects as part of its preparations to host the 2022 football World Cup. However, some of these projects may be scaled down, as the new government formed after the accession of the new emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al‑Thani, in 2013 is reappraising some of its spending plans. The budget for the 2014/15 fiscal year (April 1st‑March 31st) is likely to provide some clues as to how severe the cutbacks will be. Equally, joining Qatar's rail system with neighbouring Bahrain will depend on progress with the "Friendship Bridge" between the two countries, which has been repeatedly delayed. Nevertheless, the outlines for a GCC-wide rail network are now gradually taking shape, providing a major boon for the businesses in the region, and hastening the process of deeper intra-GCC trade in the process.

Oman National Railway...
A total of 18 consortiums and joint ventures prequalified to participate in the design and build package of the multibillion dollar project. Bids are due in by 21 December, 2014.The Sohar-Buraimi stretch, representing Segment 1 of the Oman National Railway network, connects the Port of Sohar to the GCC rail network at the Sultanate’s border with the United Arab Emirates at Al Buraimi and Khatmat Milahah.The 2,235km Oman National Railway Project will be implemented in nine separate segments covering the length of the Sultanate. Conceived as a double track network, the diesel-powered freight and passenger line is proposed to link the most populated areas, the ports and the increasing productive activities of the Sultanate. 

Prepared & Collection by M.Ajmal Khan.


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