The 2018 self-imposed completion date has been looking increasingly unrealistic due to the difficulty in getting the six countries of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman to coordinate their plans for the project. This has been exacerbated recently by the huge reduction in the price of oil which has reduced the amount of funding available, and the decision by Etihad Rail in January to suspend the second phase of its national railway network which has since prompted an Omani rethink of its priorities.

Etihad Rail's second phase involves the construction of 628km of new lines, encompassing the line from the Omani frontier near Al Ain to Ghweifat on the Saudi border, which is a key section of the Gulf Railway, together with links to the UAE's three principal ports.

Dr Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, the UAE's minister for public works, says he asked GCC transport ministries at a meeting in Doha, Qatar, last year to become "more realistic" in delivering the network. "We know that 2018 is not realistic," he said in Dubai this week.

Al Nuaimi says the UAE will now "reconsider" its plans for the national railway network, even though the scope for the regional network has not changed.