x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Union Railway preparing first contracts

A 1,300km railway network is set to span the Emirates with a price tag of Dh30 million.

Union Railway expects to award its first construction contracts by the end of next year for a 1,300km network spanning the Emirates, its new chief executive said. The state-backed firm, which was officially incorporated by Presidential decree in July and formed its board in September, is in charge of plans for a Dh30 billion (US$8.16bn) rail network to link the seven emirates and their various industrial clusters into one grid.

"In the early part of 2010 we will begin engagement with the market and suppliers, and by the end of 2010 we will be placing a contract," said Richard Bowker, the chief executive of the rail firm. The first trains could be in operation by 2014. The firm's current work centres on geotechnical assessments, market analysis and issues such as whether Union will be able to operate double-stacked trains, which create more capacity and are the company's current preference.

"The capacity is potentially very high because we are building from scratch and we are not constrained by any legacies. Elsewhere trains are bound by the dimensions of bridges and tunnels, some built a long time ago," Mr Bowker said. The main impetus for the project is the need to deliver crushed rock, granulated sulphur, steel and aluminium between the country's industrial clusters and its ports for export.

The first phase of the pan-emirates network is tentatively planned as a link between the Shah gasfield in Al Gharbia and the Ruwais oil and chemicals complex. Currently, Union is in negotiations with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company to transport granulated sulphur between the two centres, but the oil company is also considering a rival plan to pipe the sulphur in liquid form to Ruwais. "The first phase of the rail line is expected to be our line down to the Western Region for sulphur traffic, subject to discussions," Mr Bowker said.

Due to Union's industrial focus, its tracks would generally avoid dense population centres around the country. However, the young firm was also in discussions with transport officials in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to help create a viable option for passengers as well, Mr Bowker said. "Passenger trains create new journey opportunities as well as a safe environment that generally enhance quality of life," he said.

Key freight connections have already been identified for Abu Dhabi including Khalifa Port, Musaffah industrial zone, the Ruwais oil and petrochemicals complex, and other industrial clusters in Al Ain. @Email:igale@thenational.ae