Talk surrounding the introduction of a railway system in the Gulf is much like the content of a fantasy novel; much is said, but very little is ever actually done. Contrary to the excuses pseudo-intellectuals are so fond of giving, the real constraint is the cost. Yet the Assistant Secretary General for Economic Affairs of the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] Mohammad Al Mazrouei decided to try his luck and announced a railway system connecting all six of the GCC states. He stated that a feasibility study was well underway for the construction of a 2000 km railway line between the countries.
Still, no matter what the study finds, it is my firm belief that funding remains a constraint.
One of the preliminary conclusions is that the construction of it alone would cost $14 billion US and I can assure you that train fares will not cover its maintenance and management. In Britain, train fares are now more costly than any other mode of transportation, including planes. Despite this, railway companies still suffer great losses. Trains, however, will remain one of the most common modes of transportation, as they are the oldest modern mode known to man. Man turned to trains shortly after dismounting from camels and horses.
So, how could the Turks have built their remarkable rail network which connected Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, to the world, including the Levant [Greater Syria] and Medina, packed with passengers, pilgrims, cattle, troops and commodities?
Furthermore, how could they have miraculously built another network from Istanbul to Basra? It even infuriated the Russians and the British at one point, who deemed it a threat to their interests and hence fought over it in World War I.
The first reason is that the Turks’ German allies paid a large portion of the cost for them. The second, however, is that the laborers who built it almost did the job for free. This is because a large part of this railway was built by soldiers, willingly and sometimes even unwillingly, whether they were Turkish, Arab or of any other allied forces.
If only those human rights organizations would turn a blind eye towards cheap labor, the Gulf project could be built for half the expected price! The project would materialize if Arab governments were bold enough to ban “land-piracy” wherein real estate moguls rashly decide to take hold of the lands that the railway line would cross. In fact, it could also be built if the whole of the operation is done openly and transparently. If these last two circumstances were on hand, this dream could come true.
One advantage of this railway system is that it would probably reduce traffic on highways, which have become far too bloodstained with horrific accidents. The bulk of these highways have been run down by trucks and witness human massacres everyday, whereas trains remain the safest and smoothest mode of transport. It is not difficult to see the advantages that a train from Jeddah to Mecca and Medina would bring to pilgrims. With an estimated 15 million coming on board, it is a lucrative venture. It is necessary, however, to uphold the previous conditions for it to be useful or commercial.
In some abandoned areas of the Arab world, trains remain a mode of transportation for humans along with their herds of sheep. Although it doesn’t yield profit, it remains a priceless means of transport for them.