x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Union Railway Company seeks Emiratis to run national railway line

Firm in talks with with foreign universities and vocational institutes about training and development programmes that will prepare Emiratis to manage the network.

DUBAI // As the Union Railway Company prepares the building of the first stretch of a national rail network, its chief executive said yesterday that there was another "vital" task at hand - training the Emiratis who will run it. The prospect of freight and passengers being carried countrywide by rail was rapidly becoming reality, said Richard Bowker.

While the company is focused on the first 266km segment, which will transport granulated sulphur from the oil and gas fields in Habshan and Shah, it is also preparing for the future, he said. The company is in talks with foreign universities and vocational institutes about training and development programmes that will prepare Emiratis to manage the network. "It is really important that, when the railway develops and is in operation, it is actually being run by the people that are going to take it forward," Mr Bowker said. "Identifying talent, retaining talent and training talent is absolutely critical. This is absolutely top priority for us."

Mr Bowker would not name the institutions the company is talking to, but said two recently graduated Emiratis had joined Union Railway's staff of about 40. Another half-dozen or so graduates are expected to join soon. Mr Bowker outlined the company's Emiratisation goals at the Middle East Rail 2010 conference in Dubai, where about 150 railway industry leaders, eager to win contracts for the estimated Dh30 billion (US$8bn) to Dh40bn network, heard new details about the plans.

Mr Bowker said the first line, between the coastal town of Ruwais, about 240km west of Abu Dhabi city, and Habsham, about 40km south of the coast, was due to open in early 2013. It would be followed by a line from Habshan to Shah, farther south in the Liwa Oasis, in 2014. The entire railway would be built over seven to eight years, Mr Bowker said. Union Railway has so far secured the Abu Dhabi route, stretching from the Saudi border to industrial zones outside Abu Dhabi island, with a spur to Al Ain. It is close to finalising the route through Dubai, while work on the Northern Emirates continues.

Dates for the start of passenger services, on trains travelling up to 200kph, had not been set, but Mr Bowker said such a service was definitely part of the plans. The first people to benefit could be residents of Al Gharbia, he said. "Our primary driver today is that freight capability, but the passenger network is hugely important and one that will open up new journey opportunities and new development opportunities," he said.

"Just think of that line down to Shah, down through Madinat Zayed. Those are important places in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi and access to them at the moment is not as good as we would like them to be. "The railway opens up the potential for economic and regional development and passenger services that had not been possible before." mchung@thenational.ae