Oman Rail is ploughing ahead with its rail project, but it could take another four years before the first line is operational.
Speaking at the Middle East Rail conference, Oman Rail’s chief commercial officer John Lesniewski said that the company is refocusing its priorities on using rail in non-coastal areas to transport tonnes of materials such as dolomite, gypsum and marble to its three major ports at Sohar, Duqm and Salalah.
Oman Rail had already significantly advanced plans for its US$11 billion rail network, which was due to be built in four segments. The first of these phases was meant to comprise 207 kilometres of track running from the sultanate’s border with the UAE at Buraimi to Sohar Industrial Port. Tenders were floated in September 2014 and an award was expected to be made last year.
“What our minister did when he found out that we will be facing an unsure future as far as connecting with the GCC mainline, he said the best thing for us to do is not stop our progress,” Mr Lesniewski said. “We have put together such a good team and made so much progress in the last year, then if we’re not going to build section one, does that mean we shouldn’t build two, three or four?”
He said that Oman Rail is currently developing business cases for each of the other sections, but could not say which would be brought forward first.
“We just started this a week and a half ago. This is a big, multibillion-dollar investment, so we are going to be methodical in our approach.”
He added that lines could be run from mineral areas in the north and south through existing oil and gasfields in Oman’s central spine so that the railway can also be used to deliver pipelines, equipment, food and other supplies.
He said Oman was sitting on huge mineral deposits that can be transported more efficiently to its ports through rail.
“Our freight demand has pointed to over 100 million tonnes of freight,” he said. “Rail is the way to do it, because we just can’t have that many trucks riding on the highway.”
Mr Lesniewski said that it could take a further four years until the country’s first rail line is operational.
“We’re looking at this year where we do the reassessment and initial early planning. Then next year we will do the tendering, and then probably two-and-a-half years after that of actual construction.”
At the same event, Abdullah bin Juma Al Shibli, the GCC assistant secretary general for economic affairs, said that technical specifications for the entire GCC rail project will be completed this year. However, doubts remain over the completion of the project planned for 2018.
Last month Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, the UAE Minister of Infrastructure Development, said a more realistic deadline needs to be set.
Earlier, the European Commission’s director-general for mobility and transport, Henrik Hololei, had stressed the importance to GCC leaders of making sure that their systems are interoperable.
“In the early ’90s, there were 20 or so different signalling systems on European railways. These systems are fundamental to safe train travel, but they were seldom interoperable.”
These have subsequently been harmonised through much time and effort, but he argued that GCC countries should agree on a common system from the outset.
“In today’s world, there are already so many good examples where you can build on standards.
“This is not about inventing the bicycle. There are a lot of good bicycles and you can just start pedalling when you have chosen the one that is most fit for you,” he said.
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