Second Bridge to Ease Traffic, Trade Between Island Nation of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia
King Hamad Causeway sea bridge to include railway, will double movement of freight
Bahrain has begun final preparatory work before construction of the King Hamad Causeway, linking the Gulf island with Saudi Arabia. The 16-mile sea bridge will run parallel to the existing King Fahd Causeway.
Sheikh Khalid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, the deputy prime minister of Bahrain, ordered the acquisition of the land the project will pass through, with the owners to be compensated according to market prices.
The King Hamad Causeway will be one of the longest sea bridges linking two countries. The project was launched during a meeting between Bahraini King Hamad and then-Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in September 2014.
According to observers, the second bridge linking Bahrain and Saudi Arabia comes as compensation for the “Love Bridge” that Qatar wanted to build with Bahrain since 1999. That bridge was projected to reach 18.5 miles, with construction to start in 2009, but the work was postponed several times. Saudi Arabia opposed the project for political and economic reasons, even before the Gulf boycott of Qatar began in 2017.
The King Hamad Causeway will be the first bridge in the region carrying a rail line, as a real start for implementation of the Gulf Railway project. The bridge will have four lanes for cars and trucks, and two lanes for trains.
The Gulf Railway is a proposed railway system to connect all six Gulf Cooperation Council member states − Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
The new bridge is projected to produce important economic returns for Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, increasing bilateral trade by 80% during the first years after construction.
Saudi Arabia is Bahrain’s largest partner in non-oil trade, which amounted to $1 billion in 2020, according to official Bahraini statistics. Bahrain re-exports more than $400 million worth of goods to Saudi Arabia annually, and 90% of tourists in Bahrain are Saudis.
An informed source in the Bahraini Ministry of Transport and Communications told The Media Line that work on the bridge’s infrastructure will start in 2022 and it will be inaugurated in 2027.
The initial cost of the project is $4 billion, partially financed by Bahrain and Saud Arabia, and through the private sector, in addition to the King Fahd Causeway General Corporation.
The bridge will have a railway connection station; the first station for the train in Saudi Arabia will be in Dammam, while the first station for the train in Bahrain will be in the Ramli area, south of the capital Manama.
This is the first initiative of the Gulf Railway project, which will link the internal networks of the six Gulf countries to major railways with a length of 1,860 kilometers [1,155 miles].
“Coordination is currently underway with the General Secretariat of the GCC to prepare a project guide and study the volume and movement of passengers and goods, whose outputs will result in the preparation of an operational plan,” the ministry source said.
“The upcoming Gulf summit will discuss the proposal to establish the Gulf Railways Authority, according to what has been proposed so far. The project has been approved in principle, and the approval of the leaders of the Gulf countries remains,” he also said.
“Also, Bahrain will witness a major boom through the construction of the Bahrain Metro, a project that has been accelerated to be ready before the opening of the bridge. We are now working on this project at the same time as the King Hamad Causeway,” he added.
Khalid Mohammed, a businessman and member of the board of directors of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the King Hamad Causeway “will achieve great financial returns for Bahrain in particular and the Gulf in general.”
By 2019, some 10 million passengers per year were traveling between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia through the King Fahd Causeway, exceeding the bridge’s capacity. At the same time, Bahrain receives 11 million tourists annually, including nine million from Saudi Arabia. “After the opening of the new bridge, this is expected to rise with the number of tourists reaching 15 million people annually,” Mohammed explained.
“The new bridge will also achieve Bahrain’s vision and the crown prince’s ambition to make Bahrain an important hub in the region in the logistics sector, and Bahrain is currently expanding its infrastructure in this sector. The opening of the new bridge will raise the transportation capacity by more than 150%. … This will bring job opportunities, fees, etc., and increase Bahrain’s budget significantly,” he said.
“Thousands of jobs will be created in Bahrain. Travel time between Bahrain and Kuwait, for example, will be cut to less than three hours, and travel time to the UAE by train will be cut to less than eight hours,” Mohammed added.
Bahraini political analyst D. Muhammad Jalal, discussed whether the bridge is meant to compensate Bahrain. “Maybe it is compensation, but Saudi Arabia did not stand in the way of the Qatar bridge. There were political obstacles that hindered this project, which has been in the works since 1999 and has been postponed many times,” he told The Media Line.
“Bahrain would not make much use of a bridge with Qatar; our goods come largely from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and trade with Qatar does not represent more than 5% at best,” Jalal said.
Nasser al-Shammari, a Saudi businessman who owns large projects in Bahrain, told The Media Line that “The King Hamad Causeway will raise the trade exchange between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to double its current level, perhaps more, and another sector will benefit, namely the real estate and tourism sector.”
“Gulf citizens love to own property in Bahrain; there are many tourism and residential projects in Manama and Muharraq [the country’s third-largest city], and ownership will increase significantly. For example, those who want to buy a chalet to spend their vacation time will not hesitate, as there is [currently] often crowding on the King Fahd Causeway during the holidays, which extends for hours, long an obstacle to the arrival of Saudi citizens to Bahrain,” he said.
“The train will also facilitate the process of transporting goods from Khalifa Port in Bahrain to the [Saudi] port of Jeddah, for example, on the other side of the Gulf, to Kuwait, and to the Sultanate of Oman in the south, and Saudi Arabia will soon open a land line, the first between the two countries,” Shammari said, referring to the first road to connect Saudi Arabia with Oman, which will significantly reduce travel time.