UAE says GCC rail network to operate from 2021 despite regional rift

The planned 2,100 km passenger and cargo network will connect all the GCC states

The UAE infrastructure minister said on Monday he expected a delayed rail project connecting nations across the Gulf to be operational by 2021, despite a regional political crisis that has divided some countries involved.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar, including transport links, in June, accusing their neighbour of backing terrorism, a charge Doha denies. Two other Gulf Arab states, Kuwait and Oman, have remained neutral.

Infrastructure Development Minister Abdullah Belhaif al-Nuaimi told Reuters that Gulf nations involved in the railway project were still aiming to complete the network by 2021.

“That is still the date,” he said.

The planned 2,100 km passenger and cargo network connecting the six GCC states was pushed back at least three years to 2021 before the political crisis erupted.

The UAE suspended construction of its portion of the network in 2016, while Oman said it would shift its focus to building its domestic network.

“It’s going forward. We still have small hiccups here and there but the project, hopefully, is going forward,” al-Nuaimi said without giving details on whether construction has resumed.

Several projects across the region have been put on hold as Gulf oil producers struggle with low crude prices and rising budget deficits.

The UAE network will span the country’s seven emirates from the Gulf of Oman to the Saudi and Omani borders. It would connect to Qatar through Saudi Arabia’s network.