In recent years there has been a strong push among Gulf nations to improve regional connectivity, with the proposed Gulf Railway – which will ultimately link Kuwait City with Muscat via Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE – perhaps the most ambitious of the projects under development. However, it is by no means alone, with substantial investment in far-reaching road networks also under way.
In a March 2017 report, research firm BNC Networks pointed to the high number of transport projects under development in the region, as well as their strong focus on rail and road interconnectivity. In January 2017 ongoing projects in the Gulf region were valued at $379.7bn, with rail representing $190.4bn, or 50% of the total, and road construction $121.4bn, or 32%.
“An improved and efficient transport network will become vital for cross-border tourism and people-to-people engagement as the region’s governments push economic development to the next level,” said Avin Gidwani, CEO of BNC Networks.
AIR: Many airports across the region, including Bahrain International Airport, Dubai International Airport and Kuwait International Airport, are undergoing expansion, which will help improve connectivity among GCC countries (see overview).
RAIL: The Gulf Railway, which is expected to cost around $200bn, with each section being constructed by the individual countries it passes through, will have a strong impact on regional trade, cutting transportation costs and times, and making the region far more economically integrated.
The network is expected to carry upwards of 16m passengers a year once fully up and running, with some reports predicting that the use of freight trains for transporting goods will reduce energy costs by up to 80% compared to using roads. It will also help to link far-reaching transport infrastructure, such as ports, airports and local transport services in different countries, thus having an impact on all aspects of the movement of people and goods.
Within Bahrain the railway will stretch for around 70 km, connecting a passenger terminal in Salmabad and freight facilities at Khalifa Bin Salman Port to the Saudi railway system via a new causeway. For those involved in industrial sectors in Bahrain, the development cannot come soon enough.
“Bahrain is well positioned to serve the upper Gulf countries due to the location of our deep-sea port,” Bader Fareed Alsaad, director of industrial areas operations at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, told OBG. “Many shipments coming through Khalifa Bin Salman Port are destined for the Saudi market, so having the railway linked to the sea port and then to Saudi Arabia will hugely improve the export landscape in Bahrain. This will have a major positive impact.” The new rail link connecting Bahrain with Saudi Arabia is expected to carry around 600,000 containers and 13m tonnes of bulk freight per year by 2050.
In late 2017 the Committee of Ministers of Transport and Communication in the GCC announced overall project would be pushed back from 2018 until potentially 2021. However, there is nothing to suggest that the network, which is seen as necessary for sustaining economic growth among Gulf countries, will not go ahead.
ROADS: While the Gulf Railway will have a major impact, much of the transportation across the region will continue to rely on road networks.
For Bahrain, the most important road development will be the construction of a second causeway connecting it with the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The King Hamad Causeway, which will run parallel to the existing King Fahd Causeway, is set to cut down congestion, and significantly speed up Customs procedures and crossing times, with advisers for the project set to be appointed in 2018.
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