ONE of the world’s most ambitious construction projects is being built in the middle of a desert.The Gulf Cooperation Council, made up of six of the Middle East’s wealthiest countries, is constructing a more than 2,000 kilometre railway to better connect the region.

With desert sands to cross and mountains to tunnel through, the project’s challenges are immense and matched only by the price tag that comes with tackling them. The railway has the potential to unite the Gulf, reshape its transportation sector, reduce its carbon footprint and kickstart a whole new era of economic development. But first, it has to overcome the political, financial and logistical challenges standing in its way.

Before we get into how the railway is being built, it’s important to understand why it’s being built in the first place. Let’s start here – February 1981 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.