Qatar is to invest billions of dollars in the coming years to develop an extensive rail network serving local commuters, international travellers and the country's growing logistics industry.
By 2016, Qatar is expected to have a series of rail lines, with the capital Doha alone set to receive 350 km of lines for its metro, and some 325 km of broad gauge track. Most lines are to be dual purpose – carrying both passenger and freight services.
The metro grid will consist of four separate lines and some 90 stations, with the Red Route running from Mesaieed to the New Doha International Airport, and on to downtown Doha and Lusail, before extending to Al Khor and Al Shamal. Two of the other lines, the Green and Yellow Routes, will connect east and west Doha, while the Blue Route will travel along the C-Ring Road.
The main line component of the rail network will include a high-speed link to Saudi Arabia, with branches tying Qatar's railway with the planned Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) regional rail grid, and a line connecting Ras Laffan, the centre of Qatar's upstream hydrocarbons sector, to Messaieed, the hub of the country's downstream gas and oil industries.
Another rail project that will have a major impact on the local economy when completed some time after 2014 is the Qatar-Bahrain Causeway. It was first unveiled in 2006, with preliminary construction set to begin in 2008. However, work on the 40-km bridge project was rescheduled after the two countries agreed to add a main line rail link to the scheme, a proposal that understandably required extensive modifications to the original plan and budget, with the expected cost rising to an estimated $3bn.
Though adding the rail component delayed the start of work on the causeway, it should be worth the wait. Not only will Qatari producers have easy access to Bahraini markets, being able to move bulk freight to the Kingdom quickly and at less cost than by road or sea, but they will also be able to make use of Bahrain's logistics.
When completed, passengers will be able to travel from Doha to Manama in well under an hour, meaning the 180-km trip would be faster by train than by plane, allowing Qataris to commute to Bahrain.
Ground is set to be broken on some of the preliminary developments by April while tenders are being held for other stages. In February, a joint venture consisting of UAE-based Al Naboodah Contracting and South African firm Group Five was awarded the $110m contract to build the station at the New Doha International Airport, which is scheduled for completion in mid-2011.
Responsibility of the rail development has been given over to Qatari Diar, the state-backed property developer, working in partnership with German rail and logistics giant, Deutsche Bahn. The two formed the Qatar Railways Development Company (QRDC) late last year as the vehicle to carry forward the range of projects on the drawing board.
Speaking at the launch of QRDC on November 22, Ghanim Bin Saad Al Saad, the managing director and chief executive officer of Qatari Diar, said that the two companies were, "committed to advancing Qatar's forward-thinking goals of becoming a first-class state that provides a high standard of living for all its residents and is an international destination for industry and tourism".
Many media reports have suggested that Qatar's newfound focus on trains is directly linked to the country's ambitious bid to host the 2022 football World Cup. While it is true that any country bidding for high-profile sporting events must be able to boast a top-class transport network, such reports in the press can miss the point.
Qatar is not developing a rail system based solely on a desire to host a month-long football tournament, rather it plans to lay hundreds of kilometres of track to lay the foundation for the country's economy. Estimates have put the total budget for Qatar's rail programme at between $25 and $40bn, money that will buy a sizeable people-and-freight-moving network, a goal worth scoring.