The completion date of the GCC rail, which will connect all six Gulf states, might be pushed back to 2020, the chairman of the UAE’s Federal Transport Authority (FTA) said.
“Initially we set the deadline for 2018…but some countries might not deliver on time,” said Abdulla Belhaif Al Nuaimi, minister of public works and chairman of the FTA.
None of the countries have officially confirmed a delay in building rail networks, but some are still in the tendering phase or are just beginning work, making the 2018 deadline impossible.
However, Al Nuaimi said that the UAE and Saudi Arabia are in line with the schedule to complete their rail networks by 2018 – the original deadline.
“The UAE and Saudi can meet the deadline. If that line is operational, then other countries can just add in their lines when they are ready and 2020 might be the appropriate date for all.”
The minister had previously said that the UAE might look at initiating partial operation of the $20 billion GCC rail network if other countries had a delay.
However such delays could also complicate the formation of laws needed to regulate the rail operations between the countries and ensure smooth travel.
Although Al Nuaimi did not specifically comment on rail regulations, he said that final laws will be put in place once all the countries have their own regulations.
“We need other countries to form their own laws before we can form a common law,” he said, referring to the slow pace in other Gulf states.
In the UAE, Al Nuaimi said that the FTA is drafting several regulatory legislations for the mutual recognition of railway operator licenses, train driver licenses, the permits for the operation and maintenance and for the transport of goods and passengers.
The FTA is also formulating a specific law to govern rail operations in the UAE, which the minister said will be ready by the end of this year once it receives government approval.
The draft law will establish the principles regulating federal railway transport in the UAE and will cover areas such as railway system, railway finance, railway operator licensing regulations, monitoring railway safety at the federal and dispute resolution mechanisms.
Gulf countries are expected to invest billions of dollars into their rail projects over the next few years.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the big spenders among the Gulf with a total planned investment of $106 billion for various rail projects within their countries.
The UAE is developing Etihad Rail, a Dhs40 billion rail network stretching across 1,200 kilometres across the country, which will eventually connect to the GCC rail network.
On being asked if the current oil price volatility will affect the delivery of the rail project, Al Nuiami said: “I am not sure if that (oil price) will be a hindrance to the plan. If the budget for the project has already been allocated, it might affect the duration, but not the project itself.”