By Conrad Prabhu
MUSCAT -- A total of six major freight yards are envisaged at key locations along the route of the Oman Railway network in the initial phases of its
implementation, according to authorities overseeing the development of the ambitious project. The freight depots are planned at Sohar, Barka, Al Misfah (near Muscat), Ibra, Sinaw and Buraimi. They represent a key component of an elaborate rail-based freight transportation system that will link existing and future industrial hubs and economic centres across the Sultanate.
Freight carriage will be an integral part of Oman's maiden foray into rail-based transportation, alongside commuter, intercity and high-speed passenger transportation services, say officials. The alignment of a roughly 1,000-kilometre-long rail system extending from Khatmat Malaha on Oman's border with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to Duqm on the Wusta coast, has already been finalised. A branch line from Sohar to Buraimi will be implemented in the first phase of the project's development, while extensions from Duqm to Salalah and onward to the Sultanate's border with Yemen, are also on the anvil.
The Supreme Committee for Town Planning (SCTP), which is overseeing the implementation of the rail project on behalf of Oman's government, is expected to shortly announce a shortlist of companies seeking to prequalify for two key consultancy contracts. Up for grabs are prestigious contracts to provide engineering design and supervision consultancy services, and project management services. The parties shortlisted for either contract will be invited to submit detailed proposed proposals based on which final selections will be made, likely in the first quarter of 2011.
The freight component of the Oman Railway Project involves the operation of freight trains of up to 10,000 tonnes capacity travelling at speeds of 80 to 120 kilometres per hour (kph). The rail network will be designed to support heavy axle loads. Locomotives suitable for heavy haul and equipped with modern traction control capabilities will be deployed as part of the rolling stock. The project's freight transportation infrastructure will include marshalling yards, multimodal yards, depots, and light maintenance facilities.
Freight rolling stock will be made up of a broad variety of wagon types, including open top hoppers for aggregates and mineral ore; tank wagons for fuels; flat wagons for cars; double stack container wagons for trailers and containers; bulkhead flat wagons for finished metal products and steel billets; and covered hoppers for cement, iron pellets and alumina. Studies point to a significant potential for rail-based carriage of a wide range of bulk commodities and goods, not only along the length of the domestic rail network but also between Oman and the GCC states.
Rail freight is touted as an attractive and environmental-friendly alternative to truck-based carriage, particularly where heavy goods are transported in large volumes and over long distances. The rail project hopes to tap into the potentially large volumes of container traffic that will ply between Muscat and Sohar, particularly if the government's adopts a proposal to convert Port Sultan Qaboos into a tourism port. Also seen as viable is the potential for rail-based carriage in the transport of alumina from the Port of Sohar to the smelter of Sohar Aluminium Company located 12 kilometres inland.
The ore is currently transported by a system of trucks shuttling between the port and the plant. Equally prospective are opportunities for the carriage of aggregates from the Batinah region to markets in Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, the movement of clinker from Sohar to Oman Cement's plant at Rusayl, and the transportation of construction material from Sohar to Muscat and other consuming markets along the rail network. Further freight traffic opportunities will be generated when the rail network extends south of Muscat to Duqm and onward to Salalah and beyond.
These extensions, say officials, will open major possibilities for the rail-based movement of large volumes of containers, vehicles, mineral ores, and bulk commodities and general merchandise between Sohar, Muscat and Duqm, on the one hand, and with the UAE via Buraimi. Oman's National Railway network will comprise a double track, standard-gauge (1,435mm) system with provision made for the introduction of high-speed passenger trains operating initially at 200 kph, but capable at running at top speeds of 350 kph. The trains will run on electrical power, supplied through overhead electrical infrastructure that will be built along the length of the network. The rail system will form part of a planned GCC rail network connecting Oman with the UAE and other Gulf countries.
© Oman Daily Observer 2010