Etihad Rail network will be the first national freight and passenger railway network connecting the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The 1,200km railway project is estimated to cost AED40bn ($11bn).

Etihad Rail (previously Union Railway Company) was established in June 2009 to develop, build and operate the railway infrastructure. It is owned by the government of Abu Dhabi (70%) and the federal government of the UAE (30%).

“Etihad Rail will be the first national freight and passenger network connecting the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates.”

The railway infrastructure will become a vital part of the $100bn Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) rail programme. The GCC railway network will connect the UAE with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman and is expected to be ready by 2024.

UAE has well-connected ground road transportation infrastructure and the seven emirates are connected through highways.

The new railway project is expected to be a sustainable and efficient alternative for transportation of freight and passengers throughout urban and rural areas of the Emirate. It is expected to serve about 16 million passengers and 50 million tonnes of freight.

The railway infrastructure will significantly contribute to the reduction of road traffic emissions. Railway connectivity will promote trade and social development in the Emirate and across the GCC countries.

The preliminary engineering consultant for the project is Atkins while UBS is the financial consultant.

Route of the Etihad Rail network

The Etihad Rail network stretches westwards to the borders of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The western section links Saudi Arabia via Ghweifat and the eastern section links Oman via Al Ain. The railway line runs across the Emirate connecting Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai.

It then extends to the northern emirates and Fujairah. The UAE railway will connect with the sources of raw materials, industrial areas, ports and major population centres.

The Stage Two extends from the Saudi Arabia border at Ghuweifat  and connect Emirates through Abu Dhabi, Khalifa Port, Kizad , Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah , Jebel Ali Port, Sharjah and Fujairah on the east coast of UAE.

Construction of the major transport network

The Etihad Rail is being built in three phases. In May 2011, Aecom and Parsons International joint venture was awarded project management consultancy services contract for the implementation of the first phase and design of the remaining two phases.

In October 2011, Etihad Rail signed an agreement with ADNOC to transport around seven million tonnes of granulated sulphur a year from Habshan and Shah to Al Ruwais in Abu Dhabi for export.

In October 2011, a consortium of Saipem, Maire Technimont and Dodsal Engineering and Construction was awarded AED3.3bn ($900m) contract for construction of civil infrastructure and tracks for this phase of the project.

Work included the design, procurement and construction, testing and commissioning of the infrastructure.

Opened in 2016, the first phase of the railway network is  a 266km-long western stretch between Al Ruwais and Shah. It connects Ruwais with Habshan and further links Habshan with Shah. The Shah-Habshan-Ruwais freight line was built in collaboration with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).

The second phase connects Abu Dhabi with Dubai. It also provides links to Jebel Ali port, Mussaffah and Khalifa port. The construction of stage 2 was carried out in a series of packages with a strategy that ensures competitive tenders by the alignment of mainline civil and track packages geographically within each emirate.

The freight facilities and O&M were separately packaged to ensure that the tenders have been made by appropriate contractors according to their preferred packages. The second phase was  completed in 2016.

The third phase is the extension to link the northern Emirates. The second and third phases are expected to be completed by 2024.

Rolling stock

Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) of the US was awarded a contract to build and deliver seven heavy haul freight locomotives in July 2011.

PCM Strescon Overseas Ventures of India was awarded a contract to design and build a sleeper manufacturing facility and railway sleepers for the first phase of the railway network.

“The Etihad Rail stretches westwards to the borders of Qatar and Saudi Arabia.”

China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock (CSR) was contracted in September 2011 to supply 240 covered wagons for the first phase of the railway project. The trains run in the western region of Abu Dhabi to transfer about 22,000t of granulated sulphur a day.

The freight trains run at speeds of up to 120km/h, while the passenger trains at 200km/h.

The heavy freight trains transport a range of goods such as hydrocarbons, aluminium, rocks, cement and iron. In August 2011, Emirates Steel signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to use the Etihad Rail as the main transportation mode for steel.

The first phase of the railway network included communication systems, construction of bridges and a railway depot at Mirfa.

Signalling and communications along the UAE Etihad Rail network

In June 2011, an MoU was signed by Etihad Rail and communications specialist Du for the development of integrated telecommunication infrastructure of the railway project.

Du provided technical support and consultancy services. Etihad Rail and Etisalat signed an MoU in April 2011 to develop advanced telecommunication systems and infrastructure for the safe and efficient operation of the railway network.

Contractors involved

The contracts for stage two of the project were awarded in the form of packages A, B, C and D. The contract for Stage Two was awarded to a joint venture between SK Engineering and Construction and China State Construction Engineering Corporation. The contractors are responsible for the civil engineering, track works and design and build of the project.

The contract for Package B was awarded to China Railway Construction Corporation while the contractor for Package C is Ghantoot Transport and General Contacting. The contractors are responsible for track works, design-build and rail infrastructure.

Egis was awarded a project management consultancy (PMC) contract for further development of the rail network in Stage Two and Stage Three. Egis is also responsible for supervising and overseeing the other contributors of the project.