x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Transport links just keep getting better

A new air link from the capital to Dubai is an interesting experiment, and another step in the country's steadily-growing transport network.

When the UAE was formed, just over four decades ago, the journey between Abu Dhabi and Dubai was a real challenge: most of the route was unpaved sabka, or salt flats, rutted and spine-jolting, along the coastline.

The trip could take half a day and called for a Land Rover or other sturdy vehicle, preferably with four-wheel drive, well stocked with emergency supplies.

The first paved motorway, two lanes wide and unlit, opened in 1973. But today a traveller can go from one of the UAE's metropolitan hubs to the other in less than two hours, along a broad modern motorway free of heavy vehicles, and can go by private car, taxi or motorway bus.

And now there is a fourth way to go. As The National reports today, a new commuter airline service between the two cities, offered by Rotana Jet for as little as Dh150 one way, creates a new option.

As our "great race" demonstrates, the airborne option is not the quickest. Flying has an innate speed advantage - a 30-minute flight time - but there is also the time it takes to reach and leave the airport and to check-in. Additionally, there are currently only a few flights a week.

The economics of the new link remain to be proven, although the airline already operates routes from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah and from the capital to Sir Bani Yas Island. The latter link is for tourists, but the Fujairah route also serves businesspeople and commuters.

Motorway travellers between Abu Dhabi and Dubai see more construction every month. One day, in the next few decades, the motorway will run through a continuous "megalopolis", and traffic will be far heavier (and, we hope, better-behaved). Air travel seems unlikely to lighten the load very much, which brings us to the transport mode still missing from the mix.

Anyone who has seen the Dubai Metro stretching out alongside the motorway as far as Jebel Ali has also daydreamed of a high-speed train all the way to the capital. Rail travel does indeed figure in the UAE's master plans, as part of a GCC rail network but Etihad Rail, a joint venture between Abu Dhabi and the federal Government, has given priority to freight movement; commercial shipments are to begin this year, presaging a broad freight-and-passenger network.

Today a Dubai-Abu Dhabi airline link is an experiment and train travel an expectation. But look how far - so to speak - we've come already.