x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

High-speed rail link is on track

A high-speed rail service between Abu Dhabi and Dubai carrying passengers at speeds of up to 200kph moves closer to reality after Union Railway proposes adding a link to its nationwide plan.

A high-speed rail service between Abu Dhabi and Dubai carrying passengers at speeds of up to 200kph moved closer to reality yesterday after Union Railway proposed adding a link between the two metropolitan centres to its nationwide plan. The proposal, which still needs to undergo a feasibility study, would represent the most solid plans for an intercity link to date. It would be the only dedicated passenger line on Union Railway's freight-focused network.

The company, set up last year in Abu Dhabi, is spearheading plans for a 1,500km rail network across all seven emirates that would primarily carry freight and support industries such as steel, concrete and petrochemicals. The project is expected to cost between Dh30 billion (US$8.16bn) and Dh40bn and would be opened in phases from about 2013 through to 2017. Yesterday, Richard Bowker, the chief executive of Union Railway, said the company had increased the size of its proposed network by 130km to include the possibility of a special passenger service between the two emirates.

"The driving business case for this rail line is freight, but we are looking at creating a mixed-use network with freight and passenger services, and we also thought it would be a good idea look at the feasibility of direct passenger services," he said on the sidelines of the Gulf Logistics Forum yesterday in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi and its Department of Transport (DoT) has long envisioned a high-speed passenger rail service from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, as well as Al Ain, as part of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030. However, these plans by Union Railway could accelerate the creation of an intercity link by many years and, possibly, even replace the DoT's plans to connect with Dubai.

Earlier plans for the Union Railway network largely bypassed the Dubai metropolitan area, instead focusing on serving industrial centres further into the desert, as the proposed network made its way from Abu Dhabi to the Northern Emirates. The first phase of the Union Railway project is a 270km link planned in Al Gharbia region to carry granulated sulphur between the Shah gasfield and the Ruwais industrial cluster for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, although Mr Bowker acknowledged that the line could also help stimulate travel in the developing rural region. Bids on the first phase of contracts are expected to be due in August, with the first construction awards targeted for the end of the year.

The scope of the Union Railway project has been revised several times. Just months ago the network was envisioned as being Dh1,300km and costing between Dh25bn and Dh30bn. @Email:igale@thenational.ae