ABU DHABI // Construction on the first national railway is scheduled to begin by the middle of this year, a Union Railway official announced yesterday.
Bids for the design and construction of the first phase in Abu Dhabi emirate's Western Region will be accepted from the end of this month until June, said Graeme Overall, the company's business development director.
"The Union Railway is progressing at a rapid pace," said Mr Overall, speaking at the Middle East Rail 2011 conference. "The preliminary engineering for the first phase of the railway has been completed."
The first phase will be the 264km Ruwais Habshan Shah line, which will link Shah's sour gasfield in the desert to Ruwais on the coast, transporting granulated sulphur for export. Designated as a freight line, it is to be up and running in 2013.
The estimated Dh40 billion project will eventually incorporate 1,200km of freight and passenger lines, stretching across all seven emirates and feeding into a GCC regional railway. It is expected to take seven to eight years to complete, with the first functional trunks linking important industrial areas.
Mr Overall said preliminary engineering for the second phase of the project in Abu Dhabi, which will connect the emirate to Jebel Ali Port in Dubai, is under way. The company is also consulting with stakeholders in the Northern Emirates to determine the "shape" of the network's third and final phase.
Union Railway also released the results of an extensive traffic study commissioned from Wilbur Smith Associates. According to the figures, each train wagon will replace about 1.5 heavy lorries on the motorway - reducing the number of daily lorry trips on roads by 800.
"Fewer lorries on the highways means there will be less of a carbon impact on the environment, reduced wear and maintenance on highways, and improved road safety for all drivers and passengers," Mr Overall said.
The study also saw a "very strong" potential passenger demand between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, results that Union Railway shared with key stakeholders such as Abu Dhabi Department of Transport and the National Transport Authority.
"The overall picture is one of robust demand for railway services, both freight and passenger, in a growing and developing economy," Mr Overall said.
The GCC is investing US$30bn (Dh110bn) to build a pan-Arab GCC railway. The regional railway is expected to be about 2,000km long, starting from the Iraq-Kuwait border and terminating in Oman. The rail, which will pass through all GCC countries, is forecast to be operational by 2016. The four-day Middle East Rail conference ends today.