MUSCAT: A proposed rail link being weighed between the industrial hub of Duqm on Oman’s southeastern coast and the Saudi capital Riyadh is envisioned to also connect a major economic zone currently in the early stages of development in the Sultanate of Oman’s Al Dhahirah Governorate.

Rail-based interconnectivity between the GCC states will be among an array of topics for deliberation during the 44th session of the GCC Supreme Council, which began in the Qatari capital Doha on Tuesday.

According to a report by Qatar News Agency (QNA), the Summit is expected to impart fresh impetus to a new phase of rail-based integration between the six member countries in support of the bloc’s ambitions to boost trade and economic ties.

Deliberations during the Summit will seek to build on recent measures to realize the GCC’s ambition to implement the ‘Gulf Railway’ – an estimated $15 billion project that will extend a total distance of 2177 kilometres. A GCC Railway Authority was constituted last year, with a commitment to bring the GCC-wide network into operation by December 2030.

A GCC Railway Project Committee, with representatives from the respective transport ministries of the Gulf states, is currently discussing a land transport strategy, as well as a unified law for international land transport across their borders.

Significantly, the Gulf Railway project is being progressed amid an uptick in bilateral railway projects between neighbours within the GCC. Oman, for example, is collaborating with Saudi Arabia in the proposed establishment of a railway linking Duqm with Riyadh to serve the Economic Zone in Al Dhahirah Governorate (EZAD) that the two countries are developing near Ibri in Oman, the QNA report points out.

Covering an area of 388 sq km, EZAD will be developed just 20 km from the border crossing established on Oman’s border with Saudi Arabia in The Empty Quarter (Rub Al Khali). EZAD will also leverage its advantageous proximity to the massive Saudi market to target manufacturing, mining, oilfield, logistics, renewable energy and a host of other investments.

In an interview with local media earlier this year, Khamis bin Mohammed al Shamakhi, Under-Secretary for Transport at Oman’s Ministry of Transport (MTCIT), had confirmed that both countries were studying prospects for the construction of a railway line to link Duqm to Riyadh through the border crossing in Ibri.

Another example of bilateral railway links is the Oman-Etihad Rail project, which was launched by Oman and the UAE in September 2022 to implement a 303km railway network connecting the industrial port city of Suhar with Abu Dhabi. The project, catering to both freight and passenger travel, is expected to be operational five years from the start of construction.

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