Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Wisconsin companies in the railroad or rail technology industries could find sales opportunities.

Six countries in the Persian Gulf region have taken a big step forward in their plans to build a railroad network connecting them.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Railway Authority, launched in June, will oversee and manage what will become a 1,300-mile rail system that’s projected to cost $200 billion. When the railway is complete, it will extend from Kuwait south through Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Oman, with links to Bahrain and Qatar.

The project has been under discussion since 2008 and is expected to expand transportation options, facilitate economic growth, and decrease pollution.

In the UAE, railroad development already is well underway. Etihad Rail is a 745-mile rail line that will be the first national freight and passenger railway network connecting all seven emirates. The project is expected to cost more than $20 billion and to create more than $50 billion in economic opportunities.

Its goals include reducing carbon emissions by 70-80% over the next 50 years, creating jobs, opening new trade routes, offering more options for passenger travel, and spurring economic development. The network is expected to transport 16 million passengers and 50 million tons of freight.

The first phase of the freight rail system is already operating, with connections from the Saudi border to the UAE port city of Fujairah. An innovation center is being created to integrate a light rail network to the passenger rail system, and technology will be implemented to facilitate trip planning, logistics, and port and customs services.

Wisconsin companies in the rail and rail technology industries may find opportunities in the Persian Gulf region as the rail project moves forward.