Yemen to construct first railway line to link it to Saudi Arabia, Oman.

Yemen's First Railway Line
Yemen’s first railway line is expected to cost $1.29 billion. (Al Arabiya)

The Yemeni government unraveled plans to construct the country’s first railway line, expected to cost over a $1 billion amid security concerns.

The project, seen as a major leap for the Yemeni transportation sector, will cost $1.29 billion, according to Saleh Abdullah al-Wali, head of the General Association for Land Transportation.

“The new railway will link Yemen to both Saudi Arabia and Oman. It will start from the Hajjah governorate in the northwest through the coastal strip,” he said in a press statement.

Wali explained that the 2,155 kilometer-long line was made possible through a number of studies.

“One study was conducted by a British company and another by the United Nations. There was also a study submitted by the Gulf Cooperation Council and which made sure the project will be implemented according to Gulf standards.”

In addition to offering more than 25,000 job opportunities, Wali pointed out, the project, expected to take more than six years, is of strategic importance since it will provide ten folds the capacity of means of transportation currently used and will offer a safer and faster alternative.

The Yemeni government has been engaged in a series of talks with railway companies in the UK, Germany, Russia, India, and the United States about the implementation of the project.

The Russian ambassador in Sana’a has stated earlier that the national Russian railway company (RZhD) is ready to implement the project and will take part in the international bid.

In December 2006, the Yemeni Ministry of Transportation and the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCOWA) signed an agreement to prepare a feasibility study for the construction of a railway line in Yemen.

The study, which was completed in 2009, suggested implementing the project on three phases: the first is comprised of the 578-long Maaden line and the 729-kilometer long Aden-Harad line, the second the 386-long Aden-Belahfline, and the third the 766-long Belahf-Shahan line.

While the several economic and strategic advantages of the project were repeatedly enumerated by Yemeni officials, observes were able to see the other side. For them, this project will be subjected to a lot of dangers as long as militant groups and armed tribes are out of the government’s control.

“We all know that the state cannot control a lot of areas in Yemen, especially remote ones,” sociologist Mujib Abdul Wahab told Al Arabiya.

Abdul Wahab cited several examples of vandalism perpetrated by armed groups especially since the protests erupted in 2011.

“They destroyed oil and gas pipelines and cut electric cables whether because of political rivalry or to put pressure on the government to respond their demands, usually related to releasing detained members of one tribe or another.”

The last of these incidents, Abdul Wahab explained, was when members of the al-Shabwan tribe cut electricity from the station located in the governorate of Maarib and which provides for several neighboring governorates.

“In the light of such a deplorable security situation and the influence exercised by armed groups, you can’t propose the construction of a railway line knowing that it will always be subjected to several attacks on regular basis.”