Spotlight on the 11th Middle East Rail Conference in Dubai – disruption down the tracks?

Posted on in Events News

EVENTS: Regulars at Middle East Rail felt that numbers were down on previous years, perhaps reflecting the number of rail projects in the region that appear to be on pause. Despite this there was an august roster of keynote speakers. H.E. Dr Abdulla Belhaif Al Nuaimi, Minister of Infrastructure Development, & Chairman, Federal Transport Authority - Land & Maritime UAE, H.E. Dr Abdul Latif bin Rashid Al Zayani, Secretary General, Secretariat General of the Gulf Cooperation Council talked of the need for a more active private sector investment in projects, perhaps reflecting the need for a top-up on direct government finance with oil prices remaining relatively low. H.E. Dr Rumaih Al Rumaih, President, Public Transport Authority, & President, Saudi Railways Organisation added that urban transport projects in Makkah, Damman, Jeddah and Medina are moving towards PPP structures.

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Meanwhile, as if to prepare for a post-Brexit Britain, Paul Maynard MP, Rail Minister, Department for Transport UK, maximised on the UK’s first mover advantage in railways to push nearly 200 years of expertise on this large export market. Sir Peter Hendy, Chairman of Network Rail was similarly on-message, mentioning several times how his Network Rail Consulting division, already ensconced in Saudi Arabia’s North-South Railway, could do much more. Hendy’s talk was timely as NRC (with Serco and Freightliner) had helped Saudi Arabian Railways launched the first commercial passenger service from Riyadh to Al Qassim. The route also includes British station design that incorporates function and form; stations that are modern and reflect Saudi culture and heritage. 

His talk focused on lessons learnt from different rail industry structures (and the UK has seen them all) and how they might be applied in the region. He also gave an insight into Network Rail’s latest direction, devolving power to geographical routes which will be separately regulated. He also talked about the need for private sector capital, and how they were looking to ‘open up the network’ to private project organisations.

Perhaps the star of Middle East Rail 2017 was a transport mode that can’t be described as ‘rail’, Hyperloop One. Boasting a 12 minute journey time from Dubai to Abu Dhabi there was much interest from many in the rail industry wondering if this disruptive technology might be about to replace them. In next week’s airrail NEWS, Leanne Wheeler, special correspondent and customer experience specialist will provide a detailed update on Hyperloop One and discuss some of their plans to revolutionise mobility and ‘redefine regions’.