Interview: Kamal bin Ahmed Mohammed

What challenges and opportunities does the GCC railway project present for the region?

KAMAL BIN AHMED MOHAMMED: The proposed GCC rail network will provide a much-needed, sustainable, alternative connection between the different Gulf states. The project will bring with it trade, tourism and employment opportunities, and is expected to put the region on the world map with the construction of the region’s first interoperable railway network. An extensive amount of work has already been completed by different GCC member states in terms of preparing rules, specifications and frameworks, along with drafting technical, operational and institutional guidelines, in order to achieve interoperability and ensure fluid operations across borders.

Bahrain will be connected to the network through the new King Hamad Causeway and the existing King Fahd Causeway. The new transport link will have additional road capacity as well as a mixed-traffic, double-track rail connection to the existing Saudi rail line. In addition, there will be an international passenger terminal and new freight facilities. The terminal will be connected to all key residential and commercial centres in the kingdom, including Bahrain International Airport, via the next phase of the Bahrain Metro project. The transaction adviser for the GCC rail project was issued in November 2019 to a consortium of financial, technical, and legal companies, namely KPMG, AECOM and CMS.

The King Hamad Causeway and railway link project is being implemented by the King Fahd Causeway Authority, Bahrain’s Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Transport, who are managing the GCC rail project on behalf of the entities involved. Coordination on the GCC rail network continues to progress with regular meetings undertaken by the Secretariat General of the GCC, alongside regular meetings of the project’s respective steering committees and expert groups.

How does the ministry plan to close gaps in the kingdom’s existing transport infrastructure?

AHMED: We work closely with Bahrain Public Transport Company in conducting comprehensive periodic studies on Bahrain’s public transport routes. The service is evaluated in line with the advanced transport systems of more highly developed countries. In addition, we have introduced new stops along different routes, aimed at enhancing accessibility for bus users. In terms of new infrastructure, solar-powered shelters are currently being rolled out, with more than 30 stations now equipped with such systems and more planned for the future.

One of the major projects that we are working on to enhance the public transport network is the Bahrain Metro project, which consists of the construction of a light rail network across the country. The project aims to provide a modern and sustainable transport system that will reduce the use of private vehicles and relieve traffic congestion during peak hours. A feasibility study and preliminary design for the first phase of the network was undertaken by the Spanish consultancy company IDOM. The study identified the need for almost 109 km of new light rail lines, which will need to be executed in phases. The first phase will see the construction of around 29 km of track and will include 20 stations, which will be served by two lines. Passengers will be able to transfer between the two lines at interchange stations. The system has been designed to carry up to 43,000 passengers per hour.

A tender for appointing a transaction adviser for the project was released during the first quarter of 2019, with evaluations currently under way and an appointment expected to be announced by the first quarter of 2020. The role of the chosen adviser will be to review all previous studies, prepare the tender documents for the developer’s concession bid and start the pre-qualification process for the developer.