In just four years, Saudi Arabians and Emiratis will be able to visit each other’s countries by rail. Officials have said the $200 billion-plus, 2,100-kilometer track that will link the Kingdom to the United Arab Emirates is set to be completed by the end of 2021. This comes at a time when Saudi Arabia is opening up to tourism and issuing tourist visas for the first time in years.
This train link is part of the Gulf Railway project, which will connect participating nations across the region. According to the Khaleej Times, the passenger and cargo network connecting the six GCC states was initially expected to be completed in 2018 but was pushed back to 2021 in the aftermath of the oil price plunge.
According to the organizers of the 2018 edition of the Middle East Rail conference and exhibition, the UAE along with Saudi Arabia account for a huge chunk of the $69 billion worth of rail projects under construction in the GCC. The event, which took place earlier this week, was held under the patronage of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister Minister of Presidential Affairs.
Speaking at the conference, Khalid Al Sultan, vice-president for infrastructure at Saudi Railway Company (SAR) discussed the company's railway development plans in context of the country's Vision 2030. He also explained to Gulf News that, behind the scenes, great progress is being made on international agreements. To date, 16 technical agreements have been made to cover the design, building, and operational aspects of the railway network.
The GCC believes that this regional rail will open up trade, lead to industrial diversification, increase connectivity, and creates jobs for all. Abu Dhabi is already working on its domestic Etihad Rail project that will link major industrial zones and ports in the UAE. Once completed, it will link also to the larger Gulf Railway.
Along with the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia are also moving forward with domestic rail project. According to the news site, “these domestic networks will be part of an integrated transport system where connections are relatively easy and the spread of the network takes people where they want to go quickly and cheaply relative to the alternative of driving or flying.”