Oman Railway Project gains pace; 475-km network in northern part
Sat, 10 April 2010
By Conrad Prabhu - MUSCAT — The Sultanate’s authorities are preparing to embark on the next phase of development of the ambitious Oman Railway Project, centering initially on a 475-km-long network covering the northern part of the country. According to officials overseeing the conception and execution of the project, three key sections of the network have now been delineated for implementation in this phase.
Section 1 runs from Misfat near Fanja on the outskirts of Muscat to Sohar, while Section 2 will travel north from Sohar to Khatmat Malaha on Oman’s border with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Section 1 and 2, which together constitute the main trunk of the rail project, total roughly 300 km in length. Section 3 of the project involves a 147-km branch line running from Sohar to Al Ain on Oman’s northwestern border with the UAE. Branching off from this line is a 28-km secondary line that links Buraimi to the network.
The alignments for all three sections have been finalised and set out in a feasibility study undertaken by a joint venture team of experts representing Systra Consulting of France and the National Engineering Office (NEO) of the Sultanate. The JV has already completed its study of the Oman Railway Project’s design requirements on behalf of the Supreme Committee for Town Planning (SCTP), which has been tasked by the government to oversee the implementation of the Sultanate’s maiden foray into rail-based transportation services.
In the next phase of the project’s development, the Supreme Committee will select an international firm to undertake the detailed engineering design of the three sections of the rail network. Separately, another international firm will be selected to provide project management consultancy services to the government during the construction and operational phases of the rail project. Both appointments will be made through competitive tenders due to be floated through the Tender Board in the coming month, it is learnt.
Envisaged is a mostly twin-track, broad-gauge network catering primarily to freight trains in the initial phases of the project. Nevertheless, the network will be designed for high speed trains with speeds of up to 350 km per hour for passenger travel and 200 km per hour for freight trains. A final decision on rail network speeds is still awaited, it is learnt. Significantly, the main Misfat (Muscat)-Khatmat Malaha trunk line via Sohar will run, for the most part, within an already delineated corridor that will house the proposed Batinah Expressway, an ambitious six-lane superhighway that will extend from Barka to Khatmat Malaha.
The alignment abuts the industrial Port of Sohar, which along with Freezone Sohar and the Sohar Industrial Estate, are expected to generate significantly volumes of freight traffic for the rail network. A major terminal is planned at Sohar with tributary lines proposed to lead directly into the port, as well as other key areas of the Greater Sohar Industrial Area, feeding the rail network with all manner of freight cargo, including containerised cargo, ore, petroleum products, chemicals and other industrial products.
Several stations will be constructed at key points along the length of the network. In places, the alignment traverses rugged terrain and wadis, necessitating the construction of major rail bridges, viaducts and tunnels along the route. In later stages of the project, the rail system will be extended to Duqm on the Wusta coast and eventually to Salalah. Possible extensions into Muscat city, via a system of metros and elevated lines, are also being explored, it is learnt.
Development of Oman’s rail network will run broadly in parallel with a plan by the six Gulf states to build an inter-GCC rail system extending some 2,000-km network from Salalah on Oman’s southern coast with Kuwait’s border with Iraq. The estimated $25 billion project is likely to be operational during the 2016-18 timeframe. In the longer run, it could also be part of an ambitious intercontinental network that connects the Middle East with Europe and Asia.
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