New 2021 Gulf Rail deadline a “moving target” – UAE Minister

RIYADH: A new deadline of 2021 to connect the six wealthy Gulf Arab states by rail is a “moving target”, a United Arab Emirates minister said on Tuesday, raising further doubts about the stalled project.

Gulf officials earlier this year acknowledged that a 2018 completion date would not be met for the 2,100-km (1,310-mile) passenger and cargo network, which is to stretch from Kuwait down the Gulf coast and through the UAE to Oman, with links connecting Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The six states, which make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), have agreed “in principle” to 2021, UAE minister of infrastructure development Abdullah bin Mohammed al-Nuaimi told reporters at a rail industry conference in Dubai on Tuesday.

Asked whether that date might change, he replied: “I don’t know…It’s actually a moving target.”

The project, which would cost tens of billions of dollars and could transform trade and transport in the region, has faced technical and bureaucratic obstacles, and stalled as state budgets tightened because of low oil prices.

In January, the UAE’s state-backed Etihad Rail suspended a tender to build a 628km second phase of the UAE’s network, which would have connected the country with Oman and Saudi Arabia.

That prompted Omani officials to say that rather than focusing on the regional network, they would concentrate on building a domestic rail line linking the ports of Salalah, Sohar and Duqm. Last month, Oman invited international tenders for consultancy work on the project.

Bahrain has pushed back the completion date for its rail link to Saudi Arabia to 2023, Mariam Jumaan, Undersecretary of Land Transport and Post at Bahrain’s Ministry of Transportation, told reporters at the conference. Phase two, linking Bahrain to Qatar, will come “sometime” after that, she said.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles-based company Hyperloop One said on Tuesday it had signed an agreement with Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) to explore routes between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

A Hyperloop uses magnets to levitate pods inside an airless tube, creating conditions in which the pods can shuttle people and cargo at speeds of up to 750 miles per hour.

Hyperloop One said last month it had received $50m in funding from Dubai port operator DP World, taking its total funding to $160m.

Rival company Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is also studying ways to introduce the technology in the UAE, chairman Bibop Gresta told.