MIDEAST MONEY-Gulf railway boom to shape economies, politics

* Over 6,000 km of track may be laid by end of decade

* GCC governments envisage spending some $100 bln

* Population growth, diversifying economies behind plans

* Would boost trade, reduce dependence on Hormuz Strait

* But projects face technical, political obstacles

DUBAI, Oct 31 (Reuters) - A century after Lawrence of Arabia cut the Damascus-Medina railway, governments are embarking on plans to restore long-distance rail transport in the region and extend it across the Arabian Peninsula.

Official figures suggest around $100 billion may be spent by the end of this decade laying over 6,000 kilometres (3,750 miles) o f track for both national lines and a route linking all the states in the Gulf Cooperation Council: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.

The governments face big technical challenges, such as making six national rail systems compatible and building on the shifting sands of remote deserts.

But success could have far-reaching effects on economies in the region, cutting their dependence on expensive road and air travel, boosting trade and even bringing the GCC closer together politically.

``It will undoubtedly transform the economies as any major piece of railway does,'' said Keith Hampson, director of global rail transit at Aecom, a U.S.-based transport planning firm.

``It opens up all sorts of trading relationships that probably otherwise would not have existed.''