ON THE RIGHT TRACK

Oman 2015 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Eng. Abdulrahman Al Hatmi, Director of Oman Railway Company (ORC), on the present state of the rollout of the national rail network.

Eng. Abdulrahman Al Hatmi
BIOGRAPHY
Eng. Abdulrahman Al Hatmi was appointed the CEO of ORC in June 2014 after leading the development of the rail project under the Ministry of Transport and Communications. He was instrumental in setting up the building blocks for both the project and the company while serving in the ministry. He holds an Engineering degree and has over 20 years of diverse experience ranging from project management, to operational strategies, long-term concepts and business plans, strategic management, and change management initiatives.

What is the importance of the railway project for the Sultanate of Oman and the entire GCC region?

The rail project will connect the GCC countries and enable the movement of goods and people around the region, thereby fostering integration between the GCC states. For Oman, it brings a change to the dynamics of logistics in the country. Oman has extremely sophisticated infrastructure, including three major commercial ports: Sohar, Duqm, and Salalah. They are all deepwater ports that can handle large ships and significant volumes. We have a sound network of roads and we will have five airports. The challenge now is how to exploit all of these assets and transform them so they become a feeder to the economy. The rail is the key that connects this entire infrastructure. I think the rail service is an important vehicle for the ports to market themselves as the gateway to the region. The railway can be a land bridge from our ports, for example, to the GCC, and even beyond the GCC in the future. This will change the landscape of logistics and transport in the region. I see logistics becoming one of the major economic drivers for the country—a major GDP contributor.

How many phases are there in this railway project?

We have divided our network development into three phases. Phase one is connecting the three ports—Sohar, Duqm, and Salalah—to the GCC, which is about 1,500 kilometers of work. Then we have phase two, which is connecting the other economic hubs and commercial centers. Phase three is a long-term development for connecting other cities and towns. We have ordered our priorities based on their contribution to the economy. Our focus at the moment is phase one, which is connecting the three ports.

How will the railway overcome the complex geography here in Oman?

Unfortunately, we have to go for tunnels, bridges, and viaducts. We require complex engineering solutions, which is one of the challenges we face in Oman. Our network is expensive. I think we are five times more expensive than any other GCC state per kilometer.

How are you working to attract other investors to develop the railway here?

We have had a great deal of interest in every aspect of the project; contractors to build, manufacturers to set-up in Oman, operators to partner, and the list goes on. For example, there is an appetite from international contracting companies to join the project. When we invited parties to consider the project, we were happy to see more than 100 companies expressing an interest in the development even with the current heated market. These 100 plus companies joined about 34 consortiums to express interest. We carried out an initial assessment of the parties, and we prequalified 18 large multinational consortiums. It is heartening news to see we have so much interest. We hope this will let us get the right partner with the right level of skill to do the job. It also drives the cost down as well.

How are you contributing in-country value (ICV) to Oman?

Because we are developing new projects in the country, everyone is looking at what that can do directly and indirectly to build local capacity. We started the project a few years ago and we took the view that every riyal spent on the project should remain in the country. First of all, we want to upgrade the manufacturing and service skills in the country. For example, we want to see products manufactured in Oman used in the rail project as much as possible. We are grooming Omani companies so that they have the skills and services to offer not only to the Oman rail project, but also in other markets in the future.