Ms Maryam Ahmed Jumaan, under-secretary for land transport at the Bahrain Ministry of Transport, told delegates at the GCC Rail and Metro conference in Muscat this week that the study, which is being conducted by SNC Lavalin, is nearing completion and the results will be made public in March.

Jumaan revealed to the conference that the study proposes two possible routes for the new 87km link and both would connect with new freight and passenger terminals situated on reclaimed land on either side of the sea, north of the existing road causeway.

It is proposed that the link will comprise of 28km of approach tracks, a 26km causeway and 10km bridge. Trains will travel at up to 120km/h and the study estimates that it could carry up to 143,000 containers in the first year of operation rising to 343,000 in 2030 and 602,000 by 2050. Construction is expected to take five to six years to complete with a provisional opening date of 2022.

While the study was scheduled to finish by the end of 2014, Jumaan said the ministry had stuck to its commitments with the evaluation, which as well as determining potential alignments and economic feasibility will provide estimates on construction costs. "It's OK to be a bit late and then proceed on a sure footing," she said.

A second phase of the rail project envisages connections with Bahrain's new port and airport while a third will cross the country to link with the proposed causeway to Qatar.

While Jumaan did not speak in detail about this phase of the project, stating that the focus is on the Saudi link, she did say that it may still possible to complete the link in time for the Qatar World Cup in 2022 "if the commitment is there."

The railway project is a key part of Bahrain's Vision 2030 initiative which aims to deliver world-class infrastructure to develop the country's economy. Bahrain also hopes to develop light rail to ease its congested roads, with similar studies said to be underway.