King Emir Hamad Ibn Isa Al-Khalifah of Bahrain has a vision— a vision that one day people will be able to board a train in Manama, Bahrain and arrive in Frankfurt, Germany or Paris, France.
Surprisingly, King Hamad’s vision may be closer to turning into a reality than anyone expected. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) planners are already working with the World Bank on a feasibility study to create a $6 billion dollar railroad that would cross the Gulf to Turkey.
“Once there is a railway to Turkey, a connection to Europe is the natural thing to happen after that,” Turkish Ambassador to Bahrain Osman Haldun told the Gulf Daily News. “Looking at the world scenario now, we feel there will be a need for such a link very soon. This is the future and once it happens, it would become extremely easy to move a large number of people between these two diverse parts of the world.”
Bahrain’s King Hamad first proposed the idea during his recent visit to Turkey, where he met with Turkish President Abdullah Gul. "The GCC countries will receive in December a cost estimate for the railway project," an informed source in the GCC told the Jerusalem Post. "Then, the countries will have five months to respond to the proposal. If and when the project begins, it will take approximately four years to complete. Meanwhile, we are beginning to study the new proposal to link this rail network to Turkey."
The news is the latest boost for the GCC rail industry, where several nations have recently proposed extensive projects. Many of these projects include plans for regional integration.
German railway operator Deutsche Bahn signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in late August to help design a multi-billion dollar rail network in Qatar. Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Co, a unit of the nation's sovereign wealth fund, told Reuters that the project's partners would develop a plan for integrating Qatar's planned railways into a national and regional network.
The plan includes a high-speed rail linking the capital, Doha, and neighboring Bahrain via one of the world's longest bridges, nationwide freight and passenger services as part of a wider Gulf rail network.
The United Arab Emirates also has plans for a $3 billion, 700km network connecting Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah to Ghewaifat through Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
In Saudi Arabia, planners are currently accepting bids for an estimated $5 billion railway contract to build a 1,100 km railway across the country's desert. The “landbridge” would link Jeddah on the west coast to Dammam on the east, via Riyadh.
Kuwait is looking at one of the most ambitious plans yet. In July, planners for the $132 billion Silk City – a new town featuring a 1,001-metre skyscraper, wildlife reserves and homes for 700,000 people – said they wanted to build an international rail network linking the development to Damascus, Baghdad, Iran and China.
“This is where we want to put our money. We want to build railways all the way to China,” Sami Alfaraj, president of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies, told Reuters. “If we do not use oil or money to increase our influence in a peaceful way, we have no existence.”