x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Al Gharbia expects a boost from rail

Planners are foreseeing economic and social benefits from a network running the length of the country and increasing inter-city links.

ABU DHABI // A proposed rail network designed to stimulate the country's industrial sector will also boost tourism and help move people into the isolated Al Gharbia region, a Western Region Development Council official said yesterday.

The first phase of the 1,300km rail system is projected to enter service around 2014, with the entire network expected to cost Dh30 billion (US$8.2bn). Planners have mapped a freight and passenger network running from the Saudi border in Abu Dhabi to terminals in Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah, with branch lines to industrial and transit points such as airports. "People will be benefiting from this project in so many aspects, in transportation, in job opportunities," said Mohamed al Hosani, infrastructure and services development manager for the Western Region Development Council.

Union Railway "is an infrastructure project, but with it we are trying to promote the region. "To integrate passenger [service] to this project shows that we are really focused on people. We need people to get a direct benefit from this project." The railway would boost the development of the country's oil, gas and petrochemicals industries and also accelerate the development of Al Gharbia, said Hussain al Nowais, who was appointed chairman of Union Railway last month.

The detailed Plan Al Gharbia 2030, expected to be released next month, anticipates the region's population expanding more than threefold from the current 120,000. That scale of development would create demand for a high-speed passenger service being planned to share the network with freight trains that will transport millions of containers between major industrial centres around the country, Mr al Nowais said.

"I believe, if you look at the Western Region and the development that will take place in the Western Region, there is a mass of workforces that will need to be moved around," he said. "Likewise in the development in the northern emirates and in Al Ain." Mr al Nowais also announced yesterday that the nationwide railway could include a 200km link from the Shah oil and gas field to the port of Ruwais.

Union Railway is in "advanced stages of discussion" with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company to move, via the railway, more than seven million tonnes of granulated sulphur each year, Mr al Nowais told members of the rail industry at the MEED Middle East Rail Projects 2009 conference in the capital yesterday. "I think 2014 will be the first trains in Shah," he said. In Al Gharbia, Mr al Hosani, who is part of a planning task force co-ordinating with Union Railway, said the service would include stops in Liwa, Madinat Zayed and Mirfa, boosting the industrial sector as well as enhancing links between cities.

"Development is the target; making the region attractive is a priority for us," he said. "People won't wait. There will be immediate implementation strategies under the 2030 plan. "The 2030 Plan is not a plan for the year 2030. It is a plan for today until year 2030." The rail network will connect the UAE to Oman and Saudi Arabia, as well as Fujairah in the Eastern Region. Key connections in Abu Dhabi emirate have been identified, including Musaffah industrial zone and Khalifa Port. Other emirates have still to finalise their routes.

The rail system is planned eventually to connect with a proposed GCC-wide network. The National Transport Authority, meanwhile, is expected to award a contract to consultants to draft regulations for the rail network next month. Seventeen international consultancies have bid on the project, said engineer Bassam Mansour, a railway systems expert for the authority. The standards will cover issues such as competition, licensing, safety and engineering, Mr Mansour said.

The regulatory body is to be independent of the rail service's operational and maintenance functions. mchung@thenational.ae