Muscat: The Sultanate's move to build its first railway network will open up and attract more business opportunities, shipping industry representatives said.
"The Ministry of Transport and Communications has said that it will begin the work on the $15.5 billion railway network from the last quarter of 2014. From that point onwards, we are expecting huge business opportunities in this sector. We will be able to derive benefit during the construction phase and later too," Abraham Raju, representative of shipping agents' group in Oman, told the Times of Oman.
The proposed 2,244-kilometre (1,394-mile) railway is part of a regional railway network expected to link the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, as per a 2004 agreement.
According to the ministry, the Omani government is committed to funding at least the infrastructure works of the project estimated to cost between OMR5-6 billion (between $12.9 billion and $15.5 billion).
"During the construction phase, we would be able to play a vital role in bringing in goods and materials, which will result in increased business for shipping agents. Once the rail network is established, it will help us a lot. We will be able to do our business in a better and less time-consuming fashion," Abraham added.
According to the ministry, a section of the railway project is expected to become operational by 2018. Plans are afoot to construct more than 40,000 kilometres of railway line in the near future in the Gulf region and much more as part of the long-term development plans, with a total envisaged investment of more than OMR100 billion.
Meanwhile, responding to reports that the global shipping industry is now passing through its fifth straight year of deep downturn after firms ordered large number of new vessels between 2007 and 2009, even when the global economy hit the buffers, Abraham said they are not affected by the reported crisis.
"Regional crisis, value of the dollar and other external factors are certainly there in the present scenario, but these things are not affecting us. We are doing well," Abraham added.
According to statistics released in August by National Centre for Statistics and Information, compared to 2012, the period this year till July registered a five per cent increase in total cargo handled at Sultan Qaboos Port and 12 per cent increase at Salalah Port.