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Planned railroad would connect Mideast with Europe, Asia

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Monday, February 9, 2004

ABU DHABI Arab countries have completed a plan to establish a railway network throughout the Middle East.

The multi-billion dollar plan would form a rail link between the Middle East and Europe and Asia as well as connect the Gulf region to the rest of the Arab world. The plan was completed at a recent meeting of the Directors General of the Mideast Railways Organizations.

"We will convene the next meeting of the Middle East railways organization in Damascus, Syria in March or April, and in this meeting all the parties to the regional railway link will present their respective plans to execute their individual expansions, including the financing scheme to fund their country's railway expansion program," Abdul Razak Abdul Feilat chairman of the group, said in late January.

Israel was not cited in the railway plan, Middle East Newsline reported.

Under the plan, a railroad would run through Gulf Cooperation Councl states and proceed through Saudi Arabia's Red Sea system toward Jordan, Syria and Turkey. From Turkey, the train network would move northwest toward the rest of Europe or Asia. Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia have also been discussing a railway link.

Officials said the regional network would depend on whether member countries of the Middle East agree to finance their portion of the railway.

Abdul Feilat told the Riyad-based Saudi Gazette that the organization was trying to coordinate funding from a consortium of regional banks or international financial institutions. He said the cost of a rail link betweeen Amman, Jordan and the Syrian border would cost $200 million. The cost from Damascus to the Turkish border was estimated at $600 million.


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A key obstacle to the plan is Iraq, which does not yet have a permanent government. Abdul Feilat said the rest of the Arab world would have to wait for the emergence of a permanent Iraqi government until Baghdad could be linked to the rest of the planned network.

Saudi Arabia is expected to be the hub in two-phase GCC railway system. In the first phase, Manama, Bahrain would be linked to Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province and Doha, Qatar. That phase would include construction of a bridge that connects Bahrain to Qatar.

The second phase would link Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Saudi Arabia is expected to begin construction of a rail link from the Arabian Gulf to the Red Sea, in 2005. Each of the countries has plenty of disused rail lines. They include the Saudi line to Syria as well as railways between Syria and each of the following Arab countries Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.

In a related development, Iran has delivered 180 railroad cars to Sudan worth $10 million. Iranian Transportation Minister Ahmad Khorram said Teheran would deliver another 320 railway carriages to Sudan.

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