Omanis are eagerly anticipating a planned national railway project, and many citizens expect that when complete, it will lower shipping costs in a country with difficult terrain and reduce the number of auto accidents.
The Omani Tender Board on June 15th received bids from 32 local and international interested in qualifying for the design phase. Applications were received from companies in Britain, Russia, Germany, China, USA, Malaysia, and France.
The contract term for the design phase is 18 months, and the whole project is expected to be complete within five years. The railway will eventually be linked with a future GCC railway network.
The Omani government will finance the project on its territory, leaving financing of the remaining rail to other GCC members, if they decide to approve it. Observers believe financing is the obstacle that is hindering the GCC railway, whose initial cost was estimated at $25 billion.
Economic analysts in Muscat agree that Oman's initiative will encourage other GCC countries to consider the project seriously because Oman and Saudi Arabia represent the major area of the 1,940 km railway.
Muhammad al-Assomi, an Omani writer, believes "the GCC railway project will see differences in opinion, especially regarding financing and each country's share of the costs." He said GCC members are still negotiating whether a country's area or income will determine how the project’s cost will be shared. "As a result, the entire project is in limbo as is the case with plans for a unified Gulf currency," he said.
Ahmed bin Abdulnabi Macki, Oman's National Economy Minister, said the rail project will create a turning point in land transportation in the country, adding that Oman studied all the aspects of the project.
Salim bin Mohammed al-Affani, General Manager of Urban Planning at the Supreme Committee for Town Planning, said the railway project will be implemented in four phases, the Sohar-Muscat section (260 km), the Muscat-Duqm section (526 km), the Sohar-Buraimi section (140 km), and the Sohar-Khatmat Melaha section (58 km). When complete, the rail line will stretch 984 km.
Al-Affani said Oman would establish a national authority of train transportation that will be responsible for supervising operations and co-ordinating with GCC countries to ensure that railway standards are consistent. Officials in Oman gave approval for construction of two track lines, which will be operated at a speed of 200 km/h for passenger trains and 80 to 120 km/h for cargo trains.
The planned track will permit potential speeds of 350 km per hour, al-Affani said. The trains will be powered by electricity.
Muhammad Al-Murr, an Omani citizen, described the project as "a beautiful thing", saying, "it is interesting for one to travel by train. It will be strange at first, but we will get used to it and love it eventually."
He said, "Travelling by train will serve thousands of Omanis who prefer to spend weekends outside the capital with their larger families and in their places of origin rather than travelling by car in exhausting and dangerous journeys."
Abdulrahman al-Limki said train travel would change the culture of transportation in Oman and will promote tourism, especially in a country where natural resources are abundant.
"It is very difficult to reach many areas, but the train will make this much easier," he explained.
"On the train, you will not be busy driving, as is the case when travelling by car. You will enjoy observing things and the people around you," he said.
Saif al-Risi believes the train will help build a network of friendships, as "it is a good place for meeting new people and spending time talking with others until you reach your destination, something that is unavailable now."