x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

UAE starts work on plans for rail

International rail regulators and consultants compete to win the right to draft regulations for the country's planned rail network.

ABU DHABI // International rail regulators and consultants are competing to win the right to draft regulations for the country's planned rail network. National standards will be drafted to regulate future rail projects, including a countrywide freight and passenger network, the National Transport Authority said yesterday.

The authority expects to appoint a consultant by the end of the month to help it prepare the rail regulations, it said in a statement. More than a dozen international consultants and rail regulators have responded to the tender, including organisations in the US, Germany, France, Australia and the UK. Establishing the regulations is a critical step for the authority in establishing itself as an independent regulator, and for a UAE rail industry still in its infancy.

The new standards, expected to be ready by the end of next year, will have to be met by all future rail projects. They will cover issues such as competition, licensing, safety and engineering, the authority said, and will require Cabinet approval to become federal law. "The introduction of heavy rail for passengers and freight in the UAE heralds the emergence of [a] new railway industry in our country," said Dr Nasser Saif al Mansoori, the general manager of the authority and chairman of the UAE Permanent Rail Committee.

"This is why the government want us to ensure that this industry is properly developed and regulated early, to gain public trust and investor confidence in our emerging railway infrastructure and its associated systems. "When you are dealing with a safety-critical industry such as railways, both public and private investors' trust and confidence would be far more assured with having independent and strong regulations."

The news comes a month after the government announced the establishment by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE, of the Union Railways Company with a capitalisation of Dh1 billion (US$270m). The company will oversee the building of a rail line that will run between the Ghweifat border post and Ras al Khaimah, with an additional line to the border with Oman at Al Ain. It will eventually become the UAE portion of a wider GCC Railway plan linking the six member states, which is awaiting approval by GCC ministers.

It is expected that the GCC rail network will be operational by 2016, with each state responsible for its own portion of track. The UAE is separating the regulatory body from the operation and maintenance of rail, and in doing so, it follows European Union directives for the rail industry. This will ensure railway infrastructure companies and owners concentrate on the management and development of infrastructure, while rail regulators focus on making regulations more efficient, relevant and enforceable, the authority said.

In the UK, for instance, the Office of Rail Regulation is the independent safety and economic regulator overseeing mainline rail, underground rail, light rail and tramways, as well as minor and heritage railways. Robert David, director of the Middle East rail group for Bovis Lend Lease, an international project management and construction company, said developing regulations was an "essential move" by the government.

"With so much rail development about to happen, without [federal regulations], there would be great risks of incompatibilities and consequential problems," he said. The regulations will ensure interoperability of rail across the country as well as insisting that the technologies used are tried and tested, the authority said. mchung@thenational.ae