Etihad Rail is a 1,200km railway infrastructure project being built in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The railway line runs from the Saudi border all the way across the UAE to Fujairah on the Indian Ocean coast. It is being developed with an estimated investment of 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%).
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 a 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 the transportation of freight and passengers throughout urban and rural areas of the Emirate. It is expected to serve approximately 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.
Construction of the Etihad Rail is divided into Stage One and Stage Two. Stage One was completed in 2016 and Stage Two is currently under construction. Construction of more than 70% of Stage Two of the railway network has been completed.
The first batch of the new SD70 locomotives fleet for the railway network was received in August 2022.
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.
Stage Two of the railway line is 605km long and extends from the Saudi Arabia border at Ghuweifat and connects the Emirates through Abu Dhabi, Khalifa Port, Kizad, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah, Jebel Ali Port, Sharjah, and Fujairah on the east coast of UAE.
The passenger services on the network will provide connectivity within the UAE by connecting 11 cities and locations. It will reduce the travel time between Abu Dhabi and Dubai to 50 minutes, between Abu Dhabi and Fujairah to 100 minutes, between Dubai and Fujairah to 50 minutes, and between Abu Dhabi and Al Ruwais to 70 minutes. The number of passengers is expected to reach more than 36.5 million annually by 2030.
Construction of the major transport network
Stage One of the railway network is a 264km-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 the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). It transports approximately seven million tonnes of granulated sulphur a year from Habshan and Shah to Al Ruwais in Abu Dhabi for export.
Stage One of the railway network included the development of communication systems, the construction of bridges, and a railway depot at Mirfa.
The construction of Stage Two is being 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.
Package A is 139km long and connects Ghuwaifat with Stage One. It was completed in September 2021. Construction work on the remaining packages is currently ongoing.
Package B is 216km long connecting Tarif to Saih Shuaib while Package C covers 94km, connecting Jebel Ali to Sharjah. The final package Package D between Dubai and Sharjah is 145km long. Nine tunnels that are part of Package D were completed in November 2021.
The freight facilities and operations and maintenance (O&M) were separately packaged to ensure that the tenders have been made by appropriate contractors, according to their preferred packages.
A 256km-long direct line between Abu Dhabi and Dubai was completed in March 2022, with an investment of AED50bn ($13.62bn). It included the construction of 29 bridges, 60 crossings, and 137 drainage channels.
Etihad Rail operates heavy transport locomotives and multi-purpose wagons, including the SD70ACS electro-motive diesel locomotives and wagons.
The SD70 locomotives are equipped with the European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2 signalling system. Each locomotive can pull 100 wagons or 5,000 tonnes (t). The locomotives feature advanced cooling systems and are designed to withstand the geographic and climate conditions in the GCC region while ensuring high performance and efficiency.
The locomotives are 22.63m long and run at speeds of up to 120km/h. They are made of steel welded structures and weigh 193t. The heavy freight trains transport a range of goods such as hydrocarbons, aluminium, rocks, cement, and iron.
The various types of wagons operated on the railway project include hopper wagons, flat wagons, single well container wagons, and five-car well container wagons. Each wagon type has various carrying capacities. The wagons are equipped with advanced braking, signalling, control, communication, and safety systems.
Etihad Rail will operate push-pull trains on the passenger line. The passenger trains will operate at speeds of 200km/h and have a capacity of 400 passengers per train.
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.
In February 2022, Etihad Rail signed an AED1.99bn ($541.7m) finance agreement with First Abu Dhabi Bank for developing passenger transport services on the railway network. The arrangement is part of the UAE National Railways Programme, which is the UAE’s largest land rail network of its kind.
In July 2022, track inspection technology provider ENSCO Rail was contracted to provide a state-of-the-art track inspection vehicle, which will help in the development and construction of the project.
Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF), a railway vehicles and equipment manufacturer, will provide push-pull passenger trains to Etihad Rail under a contract worth more than €250m ($247m), signed in June 2022.
In May 2022, Etihad Rail signed three MoUs with European companies including Renfe, Spain’s national railway operator; High Speed 1, the UK’s first high-speed railway; and GB Railfreight, the British rail freight company, to exchange knowledge and expertise in the railway sector.
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, a construction services provider; and China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), a construction company. 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 (CRCC) while the contractor for Package C is Ghantoot Transport and General Contacting. The contractors are responsible for track works, design-build, and rail infrastructure. CRCC was also contracted to supply 842 new wagons in August 2020.
Vossloh, a rail infrastructure services provider, was contracted in March 2020 to supply rail fasteners and turnouts for Package 2A of the railway line, and again in August 2020 to supply rail fasteners for Packages 2B and C of Stage Two.
Systra was contracted to provide detailed design services for the civil works and construction under Packages A and D.
Progress Rail Locomotive (PRL), a railroad and transit products and services provider, was granted a contract in 2020 by Etihad Rail for the delivery of 35 diesel electric locomotives for Stage Two. PRL previously provided seven locomotives under Stage One of the project.
Hitachi Rail STS, a rail solutions provider and subsidiary of Hitachi, was awarded an AED1.6bn ($435.5m) contract to design and install an ETCS level 2 signalling system for Stage Two of the freight route in 2019. Hitachi will also supply telecom systems and an 800km-long 11kV power system, which will be the longest distribution network in the country. The project is expected to take three and a half years to complete. Hitachi had previously supplied signalling systems for the 264km freight line.
In 2019, National Projects & Construction (NPC), a construction company, was awarded a $1.3bn contract for Stage 2D in a joint venture with CRCC. The NPC-CRCC JV will be responsible for building all rail components, earthworks, maintenance road works, drainage systems and related infrastructure for the project.
Etihad Rail chose Jacobs Engineering Group, a technical professional services provider, in 2018 to provide crucial technical and programme consulting services for the project.
Etihad Rail DB, a joint venture between Etihad Rail and Deutsche Bahn (DB), a railway company based in Germany, was appointed as shadow operator for Stage One and Stage Two to oversee the development of the project.
In October 2011, a consortium of design and engineering services company Saipem, engineering and construction services provider Maire Technimont, and engineering, procurement and construction company Dodsal Engineering and Construction was awarded an AED3.3bn ($900m) contract for construction of civil infrastructure and tracks for Stage One of the project. Work included the design, procurement and construction, testing and commissioning of the infrastructure.
China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock (CSR), a manufacturer of locomotive and rolling stock, was contracted in September 2011 to supply 240 covered wagons for Stage One of the railway project.
Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD), a locomotive manufacturer based in the US, was awarded a contract to build and deliver seven heavy haul freight locomotives in July 2011.
In May 2011, a joint venture of infrastructure consulting firm Aecom and technology firm Parsons Corporation’s subsidiary Parsons International was awarded a project management consultancy (PMC) services contract for the project.
PCM Strescon Overseas Ventures, a railway track solution provider based in India, was awarded a contract to design and build a sleeper manufacturing facility and railway sleepers for Stage One of the railway network.
Egis, a consulting and construction engineering firm, was awarded a PMC contract for the further development of the rail network in Stage Two. Egis is also responsible for supervising and overseeing the other contributors of the project.
The preliminary engineering consultant for the project is design, engineering, and project management consultancy Atkins while UBS is the financial consultant.
AM INFRA, a subsidiary of Al Mazroui Trading and General Services, rail solutions provider JD Rail, engineering professional services firm WSP, engineering consultancy BG&E, Keller Group subsidiary Keller Grundbau, and consulting firm Aqleh Engineering Consultant (AEC) are also involved in the project.
Other contractors involved in the project are engineering, procurement and construction company Alghanim International, railway design and engineering services company Salcef Group, Larsen & Toubro subsidiary L&T Construction, and infrastructure and services company Hills and Fort Construction.
Piping solutions provider Corys Piping Systems, railway infrastructure system solutions provider voestalpine Railway Systems, structural bearings supplier mageba, engineering and consulting firm SALFO & Associates, and geoengineering services company GEODATA Engineering are some of the contractors and suppliers involved in the project.