Totaling an estimated $10 billion, Kuwait’s National Rail Road System will traverse the country through its Iraqi and Saudi Arabian borders by way of a 574km railway, linking seaports, industrial cities, and key cargo drop off points both in the country and in neighboring Gulf states. It is one of the major infrastructure projects in Kuwait’s Vision 2035, and in addition to creating jobs surrounding an entirely new rail transport sector, it is set to enhance Kuwait’s regional connectivity and spur an increase in local trade volumes, while also contributing to reduced economic and environmental costs of transportation of both freight and passengers.
As authorities in the GCC have begun to realize, an integrated rail network is the cornerstone of any urban public transport system. In Kuwait, one of the key markets in the Middle East, rail will provide several benefits, including helping to cut costs on transportation, where currently over 90% of transportation is handled by private vehicles (INECO). Minimizing time spent in traffic and providing an alternative means for passenger transit will also be major time savers supporting businesses, commuters, and other visitors in Kuwait and across the region. In providing enhanced connectivity for freight and passengers alike, Kuwait’s national rail project will facilitate growth in the volume of exports and imports, and it is expected to be an added support towards increasing inward investment. Traffic on the roads should also reduce, as shipments by truck shift to rail. The new rail network will enable the country to become a more efficient and attractive place to do business both regionally and globally, ultimately contributing to the state’s economic growth.
States in the GCC have yet to fully embrace and see the benefits of an enhanced rail network as a dominant mode of transportation. Kuwait still relies heavily on roads as its primary means of transport in the country, leading to serious congestion, increasing accident-probability, and placing increasing pressures on road maintenance for local municipalities. The use of roads as a primary means of transportation may be justified in a region with such low costs of fuel, a reliance on road transport has also contributed to rising costs and increasing transit times of transportation. With the rapid urbanization of Kuwait over the past few years, the government has identified rail as a viable alternative mode of surface transportation to address projected growth in freight and passenger transport challenging Kuwait’s infrastructure. The urgency with which Kuwait pursues construction of its rail project will be a key factor in determining completion and operation dates of the country’s still-developing railway network. Once fully completed, the Kuwait’s rail network will link to the rail network that connects each country in the GCC including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait in an ambitious, first-of-its-kind mega-project for the region, and is expected to be operational by 2018. As rail project activity ramps up in nearby Gulf states, the rail transport sector in Kuwait will certainly be one to watch in the years ahead.