x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Rail network seen as boost to economy

An UAE-wide railway system would be of major benefit to the economy, a transport conference hears.

DUBAI // An UAE-wide railway system would be of major benefit to the economy, a transport conference heard yesterday. Delegates at the Gulf Traffic 2009 Conference in Dubai heard the 1,300km cross-country line proposed by the UAE Government-owned company Union Rail would enhance the prosperity of cities and smaller towns, push up property prices and increase trade. It represented an opportunity to link ports to less developed inland towns, thereby dramatically improving freight links, they were told.

Hans Erik Bruins, the managing partner of the Dutch infrastructure development specialists RnR Group, said passenger rail links between cities and a country's "hinterland" tended to boost the economies of less established areas. "Around a [new rail] network, a huge development takes place with industrial activity and also cities growing when they are connected to the network. They will lag behind if they are not connected. It is a big challenge to plan all these developments in a proper way," the rail expert told delegates on the second day of the conference.

"It's a huge opportunity to connect ports with the hinterland, or the other way round. You see now there is mainly sea transportation, with larger ships coming into ports and smaller ships leaving the same port again with the same goods. But I believe if you have good hinterland connections you could also use these ports as transport hubs as projects are brought further inland." Union Railway, the company behind the UAE's planned Dh30 billion (US$8bn) rail network, said its 1,300km lines would run from the Saudi border in Abu Dhabi to terminals in Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah. Construction of the jointly funded $60bn GCC Rail Project, which will connect Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia to the UAE and eventually to Oman, is expected to start in 2011.

Yesterday, delegates also heard a note of caution from one regional expert, who warned cultural issues would deter the majority of Middle East residents from travelling by rail. "Here in our culture what we want is our privacy for our women and using the railway system, it has some limitations in our culture. We need to be inside with our car, with our families, and we need this privacy," said Lt Col Retired Mohammad Omari, the public relations and marketing director for Jordan Hejaz Railways, the government-owned rail operator.

He said he based his remarks on surveys conducted on railway use in his home country. However, Mr Omari said he could see the advantages of a rail system that linked the Gulf to the wider region for freight transport. "I think it will be promising for all of us because there will be the exchange of goods and a low cost of transportation on the lines." eharnan@thenational.ae