Etihad Rail, formerly called Union Railway, is no longer planning a dedicated passenger link between Abu Dhabi and Dubai but said it is on track to award the first construction contract for a freight line in the Western Region in the next two months.
The Dh40 billion (US$11bn) network is now slated to be 1,200km in length after a feasibility study recommend devoting resources solely to the first three phases of the freight line. Last year, the entire network was planned to be 1,500km in length, including a commuter line between the UAE's two largest metropolitan areas.
"We may come back to it," said Richard Bowker, the chief executive of Etihad Rail. Right now, "it's all about priorities, it's all about focus."
Reflecting Etihad Rail's primary focus on transporting goods and heavy industrial products, the first line will be a 270km link to carry granulated sulphur between the Shah gasfield and the Ruwais industrial cluster for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
In the next eight years the line will be gradually extended to Dubai and the northern emirates to link up ports, airports and manufacturing centres. While the railway system will be driven by diesel engines, there are contingency plans to transition to electrified trains later, officials said.
Some 21 firms have been pre-qualified for the first construction contract. This deal, as well as other awards for wagons and trains, should be awarded soon, said Mr Bowker.
"All of those three contracts are out on the market, and it is our hope and intention that before summer we will be able to place all of those contracts," he said.