x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Regional rail players discuss meshing networks together

Middle East railway professionals are discussing the challenges of creating a railway network in the UAE at an Abu Dhabi conference.

The Middle East Rail Conference is underway at the beach Rotanan hotel in downtown Abu Dhabi.
The Middle East Rail Conference is underway at the beach Rotanan hotel in downtown Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Middle East railway professionals gathered in the capital yesterday to discuss the challenges in creating regional and domestic networks that suit all their needs.

"Our biggest challenge is also our biggest opportunity, in that [the UAE railway] is starting from scratch and we need to make sure we create something that meets the needs of UAE," Richard Bowker, the chief executive officer at Union Railway, said.

Mr Bowker was speaking as part of a panel at the 2011 Middle East Rail conference in Abu Dhabi, a four-day event that ends tomorrow.

The UAE railway representative was joined by representatives from Saudi Arabia and Iran. The experts discussed the challenges of funding and co-ordinating a national railway when connecting it to a larger regional railway.

"It takes a long time and involves so many parties both locally and regionally," said Ali Saad al Karni, the vice president of technical affairs at the Saudi Railway Organisation. "It is a heavy piece of infrastructure. There is so much involved, and we need to make sure the foundation we set is properly done. Otherwise, there will be problems later on."

The GCC is investing US$100 billion (Dh367bn) in trains, including an estimated $30bn for the construction of the pan-Arab GCC railway. The regional railway is expected to be about 2,000km long, starting from the Iraq-Kuwait border and terminating in Oman. The rail will pass through all the GCC countries, including the UAE, and is forecast to be operational by 2016.

The estimated $11bn and 1,500km of freight and passenger railway networks in the UAE will stretch across the seven emirates, and will form part of the GCC railway.

For Iran, which already has a national railway system, the biggest challenges are expansion and funding.

"When the government didn't deliver the promised amount, we found an innovative way to fund our expansions by reaching out to the private sector with offers of real estate projects near train stations," said Dr Mohammed Montazeri, the deputy managing director of the Tehran Urban and Suburban Railway Company.

"There is a lot of funds needed in railways, not just building them but also maintaining and expanding them," said Dr Montazeri.

As part of the conference, an award ceremony was held last night, with the top award - rail visionary of the year - going to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. The Dubai Road and Transport Authority was awarded rail project of the year.

rghazal@thenational.ae