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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Back on track: Finance deal agreed to triple the UAE's rail network

New services will run from the border with Saudi Arabia to the East Coast and Fujairah

Phase 2 would significantly expand the small Etihad Rail network to run from the Saudi border to Fujairah. Courtesy Etihad Rail
Phase 2 would significantly expand the small Etihad Rail network to run from the Saudi border to Fujairah. Courtesy Etihad Rail

The country’s fledgling rail network is to more than triple in length with the announcement of plans to extend services from the border with Saudi Arabia to Fujairah.

Etihad Rail has agreed financing for the long-awaited second stage of a national rail network that will increase the amount of freight carried by trains from seven million to more than 50 million tonnes a year.

It will expand the current network of 264 kilometres by 605km, with the promise of more routes to come.

The agreement was signed by the Ministry of Finance and the Abu Dhabi Department of Finance at the second annual meeting of the government.

Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed, chairman of the Etihad Rail board of directors, said the expanded network would achieve “many benefits and advantages locally and internationally, connecting the emirates and linking industrial areas, boosting economic diversity and supporting economic and social development in the country”.

Etihad Rail, formerly Union Rail, was created in 2009 with the objective of establishing a 1,200km network across the country’s major population and industrial centres.

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It is hoped to eventually form part of a wider GCC rail network that would include Saudi Arabia and potentially link to the rest of the Middle East and beyond.

Phase 1 was fully operational by 2016, completed at a cost of Dh4.7 billion, transporting sulphur, a by-product of the oil refineries at Habshan in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi, to the port at Ruwais for export.

Phase 2 was proposed, connecting the railway to Abu Dhabi’s industrial area of Mussaffah and the ports of Jebel Ali and Khalifa, but put on hold two years ago.

The cost of getting the project back on track was not disclosed yesterday. But the total cost of the original project in 2012 was estimated to be Dh40bn.

Since the start of the year, there have been signals that the project is moving apace again, with initial designs completed for the second section, ready for the launch of construction tenders. The costs of the expanded network and its likely completion date have still to be made public.

In February, proposals for a new bill to establish regulations for a national rail network were revealed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

In April, it was announced that the Federal Transport Authority and the UK’s Department of Transport had agreed to help the UAE regulate its railways, including safety standards.

With Phase 2, Sheikh Theyab said the country was “achieving a number of economic benefits, such as improving the transport and shipping sector in the UAE by linking ports, manufacturing and production points, and population centres”.

“The network will help to support future growth with a sustainable, safe, modern and cost-effective transport system, as well as contribute to reducing the number of vehicles on the roads,” he said.

Plans for GCC rail network were also proposed in 2009, but few signs of progress beyond the UAE to date, except for Saudi Arabia, which launched 300kph high speed passenger service between Makkah and Medinah last month.

The kingdom also operates passenger trains from Daman to Riyadh, with a parallel freight service to King Abul Azziz Port.

Earlier this year, Abdullah Al Kathiri, director general of the Federal Authority for Land and Marine Transport, predicted that UAE trains would be able to cross international borders within less than four years.