The 16th meeting of the Directors General of the Mideast Railways Organizations, which ended recently in Dammam, discussed a far-reaching plan for the construction of a multi-billion-dollar Middle East rail system that would connect the region with both Europe and Asia. Feasibility studies have been completed, with long-term plans to link a future Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) railway with Saudi Arabia's proposed Red Sea extension that will go to Amman in Jordan, Damascus in Syria, Ankara in Turkey, and on to Europe and to the rest of Asia. This will take years to accomplish, but is entirely feasible.
At their next meeting in Damascus, Syria in March or April, all concerned parties will present plans for the individual expansions, including funding scenarios. The Saudi delegation’s proposal for a joint procurement program for the region was approved, although the cost of railway expansion varies, with around $200 million predicted for the link from Amman to the Syrian border, and about $600 million for Damascus to the Turkish border. The Kingdom expects to need over $2.5 billion for its own expansion to connect the Arabian Gulf with the Red Sea, construction of which is scheduled to start in 2005.
Several proposals have been made to include Iraq in the links, which would be possible either from Iran, Syria, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia, but with no official delegation from Iraq, these could not be discussed. As for the GCC railway loop, the first phase will be construction of a rail link between Manama and the Kingdom’s Eastern Province; then another to Doha, along a proposed causeway between Bahrain and Qatar. The second phase would bring in Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. Part of the discussion was the feasibility of re-opening old rail lines, such as the Saudi track from Madinah that originally went to Syria; and lines between Syria and Lebanon, Iran and Iraq, Syria and Iraq, and Syria and Jordan.