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Rail network project to link GCC states begins

GCC launches multi-billion dollar project to establish rail network linking member states who are seeking to put their disputes aside
Saudi Minister of Transport Jebarah bin Eid al-Suraisri attends a meeting of Arab transportation ministers in Kuwait City (AFP).

The Saudi minister of transport Jebara Eid Al-Suraiseri announced on 3 September that plans to build a rail network linking Saudi Arabia to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are soon to begin.

Each of the GCC countries will be responsible for building and costs of establishing the rail link within its borders, reported Alarabiya News.

The rail network plan comes as part of a larger drive to increase infrastructure projects across the GCC which are forecasted to exceed $86 billion in 2014, an increase of 77.8 percent over 2013, according to Arab News.

The Saudi minister also revealed plans for several other infrastructure projects in the kingdom including the establishment of a rail network linking the two holy mosques of Mecca and Medina, a bridge connecting the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea and a rail network linking the northern and southern parts of the country.

The collective GCC rail sector is expected to spend $200 billion as the six member countries – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar aim to complete the integrated GCC-wide network by 2018.

The railway network will create new jobs and bring environmental benefits to the region Feras Shadid a rail assurance and asset management consultant told Arab News on 7 August.

“Rail networks create a more sustainable society that is not dependent on one mode of transport for passengers and goods,” Shadid said. 

“Also the environmental advantages of using railways have been documented extensively, and the rail projects will create a range of employment opportunities including high-tech engineering positions,” Shadid said.

Globe Express Services (GES) announced on 3 September the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Etihad Rail, the developer and operator of the UAE’s national railway network, reported business portal Arabian Supply Chain.

Once completed, Etihad Rail network will extend across the UAE, connecting the Emirates to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Oman. It will be part of the larger GCC rail network, which will connect the country with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through Ghuwaifat from the west and with the Sultanate of Oman through Al Ain from the east.  

Although the GCC countries are part of a regional collective, member states traditionally hold opposing political and ideological stances on several strategic issues in the Middle East.

A recent exposure of these historical rifts took place due to Qatar’s support for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and hosting of the Al-Jazeera satellite channel- seen by critics as biased in favour of the Brotherhood - which increased tensions between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours - several of which designate the Brotherhood as a ‘terrorist’ group.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain in March recalled their ambassadors from Doha, after accusing Qatar of meddling in their internal affairs and supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

The GCC states have however tried to put their disputes aside in order to fight an imminent threat posed by the Islamic State’s advancement in the region.

On 1 September, speaking to reporters following a meeting of Gulf Arab foreign ministers, Kuwait's top diplomat Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah said that the six-months spat with Qatar was on its way to being resolved. 

"Terrorism knows no border and its danger could affect several countries outside the Middle East," Saudi King Abdullah was quoted as telling ambassadors, including the US envoy.

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