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Roundup: Gulf Arab railway sets for bigger boom
[February 05, 2013]

Roundup: Gulf Arab railway sets for bigger boom

DUBAI, Feb 05, 2013 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Railway systems providers and wagons producers queue up at the Middle East's biggest railway conference, Middle East Rail 2013, which started Tuesday in Dubai.

The three-day fair and exhibition, which runs in its 7th edition this year, brings together around 90 industry participants and railway suppliers, among them France's Alcatel-Lucent, General Electric, and China's IT giant Huawei, who all aim to grab a share of the region's growing railway market which the event's organizer Terrapinn estimated at 156 billion U.S. dollars.

According to Long Wei, project manager of overseas business at China Southern Rails (CSR) Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive Co., the Gulf Arab states in particular are witnessing a railway boom, but most projects are still in its early stages.

The oil-rich Gulf countries want firstly to improve their infrastructure by connecting their countries with railways and secondly upgrade the export of petrochemical and non-oil goods by transferring delivery tracks from the street to the steel track, the manager said.

The start of the Dubai Metro, the Middle East's first driverless metro system, in 2009 triggered the Gulf Arab states a boom for new railway projects. In 2012, a whopping 367 million passengers took a trip with the blue-painted metro, up from 323 million in 2010.

Other significant railway networks on the Arab peninsula exist only between Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh and the eastern Saudi oil city Dammam.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) started last year the construction of Etihad Rail, a 1,200-km-long network that will connect the seven sheikhdoms comprising Gulf state. The construction of the first phase of the project worth 900 million dollars was awarded in October 2011 to Italian companies Saipem and Tecnimont, and regional company Dodsal Engineering and Construction.

In order to upgrade the country's infrastructure for the FIFA World Cup in 2022, Qatar has awarded Germany's national rail corporation Deutsche Bahn in 2009 to build with 23 billion dollars a 325 km-long railway network in the Gulf state, a major gas supplier.

"We are building currently one kilometer per day," said Shahid Khan, project director North-South Railway at Saudi Binladin Group.

Khan added that building a railway track in the Gulf is most challenging due to the soft desert earth and the heat in the summer which can reach up to 60 degrees in the summer months." The soil has to be tightened, labor camps have to be built in the desert and the sand has to be swept away from the newly installed track on a daily basis.

In contrast to the underdeveloped grid in the Gulf Arab region, the Iranian railway network has a total length of 8,160 km.

Huawei aims to equip the wagons on the future railway tracks with mobile telecommunications technology so that passengers can also use smartphones and internet in tunnels and underground.

"The potential in the Arab peninsula is huge," said Asela Dissanayaka, wireless sales manager at Huawei Middle East in Dubai. "But so is the competition around the Arab railway in the making."

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