Over the past three decades, the UAE government has launched massive projects to assist commercial entities and boost economic growth. The formation of Etihad Rail, a national railway network that will serve the ever-expanding industries in the country, signalled the start of a massive railway project throughout the region. Initially, the focus of the project was on freight services by train. However, passenger rail service was also announced to provide a cheaper, faster and greener travelling option in the long run.
Now, with 70% of the twin-track infrastructure (passenger and freight) completed and tracks between Dubai and Abu Dhabi linked, it’s the perfect time to look at everything we know about Etihad Rail so far.
ALL ABOUT THE ETIHAD RAIL PROJECT – PHASE I
The Etihad Rail project was initiated in 2009. The first phase was completed in 2016 as two trains started operating across the country. Each train can carry 22,000 tons of sulphur and 110 wagons on a single journey. So far, 30 million tonnes of granulated sulphur have been transported with zero injuries without a single lost-time incident, which is equivalent to 1.8 million truck trips. Interestingly, a single train journey means taking over 300 trucks off the road resulting in a reduction of up to 80% carbon dioxide.
The UAE imported seven Electro-Motive Diesel locomotives equipped with in-cab European signalling systems from the US for Phase 1 of the rail network. Similarly, all 110 wagons have derailment protection, electronically controlled pneumatic brakes and other extended safety features. Each unloaded wagon weighs 30 tonnes while the weight increases to 130 tonnes when loaded.
The European Train Control System (ETCS) displays the signalling as well as the movement directly to the cab. The data from the train is sent to Radio Block Centre (RBC), displaying its precise position as well as directions. The use of odometers, GMS-R or radar and accelerometers are used to refine the position of the train. Speed information and route data are utilised as well.
The two tracks, both spanning 264 km, transport granulated sulphur from gas fields in Shah and Habshan to the export point in Ruwais.
Upon completion, the Etihad Rail network will be critical for travel and business in the region. The plan is to connect all seven emirates in the UAE to the neighbouring five GCC countries. Phase Two of Etihad Rail will involve finalising an additional track of 605 km from Ghuweifat, near the Saudi Arabia border, to Fujairah.
The UAE will import another 38 locomotives for stage two of the Etihad Railway project. These machines are designed to pull a 100-wagon train, effectively replacing as many as 5,600 trucks each day.
The Etihad Rail network to connect the country will involve the capital Abu Dhabi, KIZAD, Port Khalifa, Port Jebel Ali, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Dubai, and Fujairah on the East Coast. This extension will link the existing line at Ruwais, effectively uniting the trading centres as well as the major industrial ports within the UAE.
Different wagons will be used for transporting goods depending on the type of materials. These include temperature-controlled carriages, rail gondolas, low side walls for bulk material, flatbed wagons and intermodal steel containers.
Contracts for Package A were awarded to a joint venture between China State Construction Engineering Corporation and South Korea’s SK Engineering and Construction. This included designing, building, civil engineering and working on the initial 139-kilometre track stretch that connects Ruwais and Ghuweifat.
Package A stage 2 project has been concluded. The stage 2 track connects to the Al Ghuwaifat on the border of Saudi Arabia with the Stage One project. This covers the area of 264 km from Habshan to Al Ruwais.
Package B and C that will link Khalifa Port, Khalifa Industrial City (KIZAD), and Jebel Ali Port have been clubbed together. This contract was awarded to Ghantoot Transport & General Contracting Company and China Railway Construction Corporation Ltd and includes working on the design, building, civil engineering and other rail infrastructure. The routes include Tarif to Saih Shuaib (216 km) and Jebel Alito Sharjah (94 km).
The fourth package, “D” is also awarded to a joint venture. China Railway Construction Corporation, CRCC, and National Projects and Construction, NPC, are working on this track that runs for 132 km from Sharjah to Fujairah. This route will cover Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Fujairah while passing through the Hajar Mountains.
Here is a look at an already completed underbridge structure located in Al Bithnah, Fujairah. The multi-span bridge is 600 m long.
Take a closer look into the construction progress of the highest under bridge structure in the UAE, located within Al Bithnah, Fujairah, this fascinating 600 m long multi-span bridge, will facilitate the trade route to and from the emirate, playing a pivotal role pic.twitter.com/0bbw9KiDF7
— Etihad Rail (@Etihad_Rail) May 10, 2022
Similarly, Etihad Rail has signed contracts with governmental and non-governmental institutions to ensure the project’s swift construction and smooth operations.
The good news is that track construction is already well underway. His Highness Sheikh Theyab bin Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court and Chairman of Etihad Rail, was the chief guest at the track laying of Saih Shuaib railhead, towards Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
As of April 2022, the 256 km track linking Abu Dhabi with Dubai has been completed. Its construction required 47 million hours and involved over 13,000 workers. The track goes through 60 crossings, 29 bridges and 137 drainage channels.
Interestingly, the final pieces of the track were installed by H.H. Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court and Chairman of Etihad Rail and H.H. Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance.
In June 2022, Etihad Railway commissioned the Spanish Giant CAF to provide and maintain the passenger fleet as per European standards. Each passenger will be able to use incredible new technology during their travel. The cutting-edge technology will mean that these devices will perform reliably and efficiently.
THE PASSENGER TRAIN
The passenger rail service is expected to serve 36 million people by the year 2030. The completion date for the project has not been announced yet. However, test runs between Abu Dhabi and Dubai have begun.
This track will run parallel to the Emirates Road (E611) motorway. The train will go past the Expo 2020 site and Al Maktoum International Airport. The journey from the capital to Dubai takes about 50 minutes. While the journey from Fujairah to Abu Dhabi will be around 100 minutes.
The plan is to integrate Eithad Rail with the existing public transport system i.e. buses and the metro with a unified ticket and journey planning system. Upon completion, passengers will be able to travel across the country on rail and in future, we will be able to see trains travel across national borders too.
It has been announced that the first passenger train station will be based in Sakamkam, Fujairah which will connect 11 regions. A 145-km stretch is under development connecting Sharjah to Fujairah Port and Ras al-Khaimah.
THE FIRST LOOK
The first look of Etihad Rail was unveiled in January 2022. Silver and grey coloured carriages have the Etihad Rail logo displayed prominently. And images were released of what the carriages would look like from the inside too.
Different types of seating arrangements will be offered according to flight class. You can expect a comfortable journey with considerable spaces between passenger cabins. All carriages will have a Wi-Fi facility, charging points, and entertainment systems, and there will be numerous food and beverages options on board. The whole look of the trains can be confidently defined as futuristic, sleek and aerodynamic.
HOW WILL ETIHAD RAIL IMPACT BUSINESS OPERATIONS IN THE UAE?
Once fully operational, the Etihad Rail network is estimated to replace 5,600 trucks per day. Traffic on road networks will lessen; hence, travelling across emirates will become faster.
An environmental study conducted before the project launch assessed and predicted its impact. The Etihad Rail project can help reduce pollution as trains emit up to 80% less carbon dioxide than trucks carrying the same load.
Overall, the Etihad Railway network can help reduce greenhouse gases by an estimated 2.2 million metric tons per year. It is the same as taking 375,000 vehicles off the road. Similarly, the Emirates Rail network will save the government a total of AED 186 billion in the next four decades.
ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION AND OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
Etihad Rail has carried out Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) to lessen its environmental effects. This applies to all four stages of the project, including planning, development, construction and operation. Similarly, all contractors have to meet the project standards and guidelines.
During Stage One, 10 road underpasses, two underbridges and 20 overbridges were constructed. Furthermore, 18 small underpasses were built for future use to avoid disrupting the flow of traffic.
What’s important to note here is that the infrastructure was developed to ensure animal habitats are not impacted in any way. As many as 78 reptile, 10 camel and 22 gazelle underpasses were constructed to monitor the wildlife and protect their habitats closely. Breeding sites, especially for endangered species, have been avoided during the project development. Similarly, all vegetation that had to be removed was replanted carefully at a suitable site.
Different types of fences have also been installed as part of the project, including military fences, boundary, sand mitigation, security and anti-dazzle.
Another key consideration was noise control. There are zero road intersections, so train horns will be only used in emergencies. The tracks don’t have joints and the ballasts used also absorb noise and energy. It is expected that the noise of three locomotives and 110 wagons will not exceed 88 dB at a 25m distance.
HOW LONG IS ETIHAD RAIL?
Etihad Rail will cover 1,200 km. Tracks connect to the border of Saudi Arabia to the south and touch Oman to the east. The project’s distribution centres and storehouses will be connected to major transport hubs and storage facilities across the country. The Etihad rail map posted above outlines the whole project.
WHAT GOODS AND MATERIALS CAN BE TRANSPORTED VIA THE TRAINS?
From food items to raw materials for construction, Etihad Rail can transport it all. The plan includes transporting beverages, perishable food, sugar, polymers, metal, shipping containers, waste, hay, ceramics and more.
WILL THE ETIHAD RAIL CARRY GENERAL PASSENGERS?
Yes, passenger transport is part of the plan. So, when the time comes, you’ll be able to travel from emirate to emirate by rail.
HOW WILL ETIHAD RAIL HELP BUSINESSES OPERATING IN THE UAE?
Upon completion of Phase 2, the Etihad Rail network will make a huge difference for businesses. It would help reduce the country’s carbon footprint and potentially save costs. Indeed, this will transform the logistics industry. Connecting different socio-economics zones will be helpful for businesses trying to expand in other emirates and the neighbouring GCC countries. In the long run, this project will enhance the UAE’s positioning in the global market and make it even more attractive to foreign investors.
WHAT WILL BE THE IMPACT ON THE JOB MARKET OF THIS PROJECT?
Etihad Rail provided an opportunity for Emirati students to specialise in railway education. The first class of such students graduated with diplomas in 2020. It was a proud moment for the country when Maithaa Al Remeithi became the first female Emirati train controller.
A skilled and dedicated workforce will be needed to keep this massive project running, which will create new job opportunities. As mentioned, the process of developing a workforce has already commenced.
For the construction, Etihad Rail and First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) signed an AED 1.99 billion ($541.8 million) deal financing railway passenger transport services. Such an investment naturally will stimulate the economy not just in the short term but in years to come.
A number of innovative transport projects in the UAE are in the pipeline. So you can expect even more comfortable and rapid travel within and between emirates in the near future.
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Featured image credit: Etihad Rail official website