As part of its efforts to assist commercial entities and boost economic growth, the UAE government has launched massive projects in the past two decades. Etihad Rail, a railway network that will serve the country’s ever-growing industries, marked the beginning of a massive railway project throughout the region. At first, the project focused on train freight services. The passenger rail service was also announced as a cheaper, faster, and more environmentally friendly option in the long run.
Now, with 70% of the twin-track infrastructure (passenger and freight) completed and the first cabins unveiled, it’s a good time to review everything about Etihad Rail.
Project Etihad Rail Phase I – What to Expect
Etihad Rail was initiated in 2009. The first phase of the project was completed in 2016 as two trains began operating across the country. A single train can carry 22,000 tons of sulphur and 110 wagons. As of today, 30 million tonnes of granulated sulphur have been transported without any injuries and without a single lost-time incident, which is equivalent to 1.8 million trips by trucks. A single train trip eliminates the need for over 300 trucks, resulting in a reduction of up to 80% in carbon dioxide emissions.
For Phase 1 of the rail network, the UAE imported seven Electro-Motive diesel locomotives with in-cab European signaling systems from the US. Similarly, all 110 wagons are equipped with derailment protection, electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, and other safety features. Unloaded wagons weigh 30 tonnes; loaded wagons weigh 130 tonnes.
The European Train Control System (ETCS) displays the signaling and movement directly to the cab. A train’s data is sent to the Radio Block Centre (RBC), which displays its precise location and direction. The train’s position is refined using odometers, GMS-R or radar, and accelerometers. Route and speed data are also gathered.
From the gas fields in Shah and Habshan, granulated sulphur is transported to the export point in Ruwais via two tracks, both spanning 264 km.
The Etihad Rail network will be critical for travel and business in the region when it is completed. The plan is to link all seven emirates with the neighboring GCC countries. In Phase Two of Etihad Rail, 605 kilometers of the additional track will be completed from Ghuweifat, near the Saudi Arabian border, to Fujairah.
For stage two of the Etihad Railway project, the UAE will import another 38 locomotives. Each day, these machines can replace up to 5,600 trucks as they pull a 100-wagon train.
Etihad Rail will connect Abu Dhabi, KIZAD, Port Khalifa, Port Jebel Ali, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Dubai, and Fujairah on the East Coast with the country. The extension will link the existing line at Ruwais, effectively connecting the major trading centers and industrial ports within the UAE.
Depending on the type of materials, different wagons will be used to transport goods. A few examples are temperature-controlled carriages, rail gondolas, low side walls for bulk material, flatbed wagons, and intermodal steel containers.
The good news is that construction on the track has already begun. At the track laying of Saih Shuaib railhead, towards Abu Dhabi and Dubai, 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. Plans for further expansion are also in the works, and the project has been divided into several packages for faster progress.
A joint venture of China State Construction Engineering Corporation and South Korea’s SK Engineering and Construction has received contracts for Package A. This includes designing, building, civil engineering, and constructing the first 139 kilometers of track between Ruwais and Ghuweifat.
Packages B and C, which will link Khalifa Port, Khalifa Industrial City (KIZAD), and Jebel Ali Port, have been combined. Ghantoot Transport & General Contracting Company and China Railway Construction Corporation Ltd were awarded the contract to work on the design, building, civil engineering, and other rail infrastructure. Routes include Tarif to Saih Shuaib (216 km) and Jebel Ali to Sharjah (94 km).
In addition, a joint venture won the fourth package, “D”. On this 132 km-long track that runs from Sharjah to Fujairah, China Railway Construction Corporation, CRCC, and National Projects and Construction, NPC, are working. Passing through the Hajar Mountains, this route covers Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah, and Fujairah.
Etihad Rail has also signed contracts with governmental and non-governmental institutions to ensure the project’s rapid construction and smooth operations. Etihad Rail’s current list of contractors includes top companies around the world.
The Passenger Train
By 2030, 36 million passengers will use the passenger rail service. The project’s completion date has not yet been announced. A test flight between Abu Dhabi and Dubai has yet to be completed.
The track will run parallel to the Emirates Road (E611) motorway. The train will pass through the Expo 2020 site and the Al Maktoum Airport. From Abu Dhabi to Dubai, it should take 50 minutes. Fujairah to Abu Dhabi will take about 100 minutes.
It is planned to integrate Eithad Rail with the existing public transportation system, i.e. buses and metro, to provide unified ticketing and journey planning system. Upon completion, passengers will be able to travel across the country by rail, and perhaps in the future across national borders as well.
The First Look
An early look at Eithad Rail was unveiled in January 2022. The Eithad Rail logo is prominently displayed on silver and grey carriages. There were also images released of how the carriages would look on the inside. Different seating arrangements will be available depending on the flight class.
You can expect a comfortable journey with plenty of room between the passenger cabins. There will be free Wi-Fi on all carriages, charging points, entertainment systems, and a variety of food and beverage options. The look of the trains can be described as futuristic, sleek, and aerodynamic.
How Will Etihad Rail Affect Business Operations In The UAE?
The Etihad Rail network is expected to replace 5,600 trucks per day once fully operational. There will be less traffic on road networks; therefore, traveling across emirates will be faster.
The project was assessed and predicted in an environmental study conducted before it was launched. Trains emit up to 80% less carbon dioxide than trucks carrying the same load, so Etihad Rail can reduce pollution.
Approximately 2.2 million metric tons of greenhouse gases can be reduced annually through the Etihad Railway network. This is equivalent to taking 375,000 cars off the road. The Emirates Rail network will also save the government AED 186 billion over the next four decades.
Environment Protection And Other Considerations
Etihad Rail has conducted Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) to reduce its environmental impacts. All four stages of the project must be considered, including planning, development, construction, and operation. All contractors must also meet the project standards and guidelines.
During Stage One, 10 road underpasses, two underbridges and 20 overbridges were constructed. Additionally, 18 small underpasses were constructed for future use to avoid disrupting traffic flow.
It’s important to note that the infrastructure was built to ensure no impact is made on the animal habitats. To protect the habitats of wildlife, 78 reptile, 10 camel, and 22 gazelle underpasses were constructed. Breeding sites, especially for endangered species, have been avoided during the development of the project. Likewise, all vegetation that had to be removed was replanted carefully at another suitable location.
Various types of fences have also been installed as part of the project, including military fences, boundary fences, sand mitigation fences, security fences, and anti-dazzle fences.
Noise control was another key factor. Since there are no road intersections, train horns will only be used in an emergency. There are no joints on the tracks, and the ballasts are used to absorb noise and energy. The noise of three locomotives and 110 wagons will not exceed 88 dB at a distance of 25m.