Muscat: Oman's ambitious national railway project, estimated to cost anywhere between OMR5-6 billion for building 2,244 kilometres of railway line, will be implemented on a fast track basis and completed in a single phase, instead of three phases as proposed earlier.
The government is in an advanced stage to appoint a project management consultant, after the Tender Board short-listed a few companies that submitted their bids. "We are in the process of reviewing and evaluating the tenders and hope that by the end of this month, we will send our recommendations to the Tender Board to process these further," said Dr. Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Futaisi, Minister of Transport and Communications, on the sidelines of an investment opportunities forum on railway project conducted under the patronage of His Highness Sayyid Asa'ad bin Tariq bin Taimour Al Said, Representative of His Majesty the Sultan.
The first contract for the 2,244-km-long railway line will be awarded by the end of 2014 and a section of the railway project is expected to become operational by 2018. "We are going ahead (with the project) on a fast track and through this forum, we are asking the private sector to think about investment strategy and take advantage of the available opportunities."
Italferr, an Italian engineering firm, won a contract for consultancy services for preliminary design of the national railway project. The whole railway will have 30 small stations, 10 interim stations, six large stations and eight marshalling yards.
Al Futaisi said the newly-formed Oman Railway Company (which is under the Ministry of Transport and Communications) would take care of the entire implementation programme, including procurement. "Then it will look at the operations part. It will decide whether it is to be operated by the company itself or a subsidiary be created to take care of operation," added the minister. Oman Railway Company (ORC) may also consider giving the operation licence to a foreign company.
Training, capacity building
Delivering the keynote address at the well-attended two-day conference, the minister also announced a plan to take the first batch of 50 Omani engineers to be trained overseas to prepare them to work for the railway project.
Emphasising the need for capacity building, he said, "The government is set to build capacity and train Omani professionals in different areas to run the railway from the very first day of opening."
The minister also noted that the region now represents the fastest-growing market for the railway sector in the world. Plans are afoot to construct more than 40,000 kilometres of railway line in the near future in the Gulf region and much more in long-term development plans, with a total envisaged investment of more than OMR100 billion.
"We started seriously and vigorously to translate this ambition, as the railway project in the Sultanate witnessed a significant development in 2013 through the transformation of the project from a technical project embodied in tenders, design and execution into an integrated project, which represents a fundamental building block and a key element in the sustainable growth of the GDP of the Sultanate.
Al Futaisi said the project was embodied in the emergence of many fields — strategy, the design and implementation of infrastructure, operation and maintenance of trains, national capacity-building and economic and trade dimension, the involvement of the private sector and the community. He said the railway will help Oman to boost exports and trade. It will make Oman not only a gateway for the entire region, but also a centre of trade between east and west.
He called upon the private sector and the entire community to be part of the development programme since it was a project of great national importance. The two-day symposium aims to provide a broad meeting ground for the businessmen within and outside the country to identify real opportunities to provide services and set up manufacturing facilities in the Sultanate.