Deal signed to bring in UK expertise on safety, accident investigation and innovation
British and UAE transport chiefs in joint plan to keep the country's railways on track
Britain has signed an agreement with the UAE to provide help in regulating railways, in another sign that country’s plans for a wider network are back on the fast track.
The agreement between the Federal Transport Authority and UK Ministry of Transport covers safety standards and accident investigations, as well as research and innovation.
It was signed by Dr Abdullah Al Nuaimi, Minister of Infrastructure Development and Chairman of the Federal Transport Authority, and Chris Grayling the UK’s secretary of state for transport.
The deal means officials from both organisations will work together and take part in exchange visits when needed.
The UK was the first country in the world to develop a modern railway network in the early 19th century, while the UAE at present only operates one service, a 264 kilometre freight line to Ruwais that carries sulphur by-products from the oilfields of Shah and Rabsham.
The line began operating in 2013, but plans by Etihad Rail to expand freight services across the country were put on hold two years ago.
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Since the New Year, though, a series of announcements have suggested that railways are back on the agenda for the future.
Etihad Rail is reported to be on the verge of offering tenders for the second stage of its network, which would expand freight services to 1,200 kilometres with stops in Khalifa Port and Jebel Ali in Dubai.
Abdullah Al Kathiri, director general of the Federal Authority for Land and Marine Transport, also indicated that trains from the UAE could run across international borders within less than four years.
"By the end of December 2021 we will have a connection between us and the Saudis," he told the Reuters news agency.
Saudi Arabia’s own rail network also includes passenger services, something which currently does not figure in the UAE’s plans.
The country is about to begin operating the 300kph high speed Haramain Express, which will carry pilgrims to Hajj and Umrah between Makkah and Madinah.
The 450 kilometre journey, which can take up to six hours by bus, will be shorted to just two hours.
In 2009, GCC members agreed to work towards a unified single network by 2021, although most members have yet to start work.
Once complete, a GCC network could, in theory, extend the Middle East, if peace and stability returns to countries like Syria and Iraq.
It raises the potential of trains running from cities in the UAE to cities like London and Paris in Europe and to China and India in the East.