Etihad Rail 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 2018.

UAE has good 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 tons of freight.

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

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

Route of the Etihad Rail

The Etihad Rail 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.

Construction of the major transport network

The Etihad Rail is being built in three phases. The first phase of the railway network will be a 266km long western stretch between Al Ruwais and Shah. It will connect Ruwais with Habshan by 2013 and further link Habshan with Shah by 2014. The Shah-Habshan-Ruwais freight line is being built in collaboration with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).

In October 2011, Etihad Rail signed an agreement with ADNOC to transport about seven million tons 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 Tecnimont and Dodsal Engineering and Construction was awarded AED3.3bn ($900m) contract for construction of civil infrastructure and tracks for this phase of the project.

The scope of work includes design, procurement and construction, testing and commissioning of the infrastructure.

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.

The second phase will connect Abu Dhabi with Dubai. It will also provide links to Jebel Ali port, Mussaffah and Khalifa port. The third phase will be the extension to link the northern emirates. The second phase is expected to be completed by 2016 and the third phase by 2017.

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 will run in the western region of Abu Dhabi to transfer about 22,000t of granulated sulphur a day.

The network will initially operate on diesel fuel while electrification is planned in the future. The freight trains will run at speeds of up to 120km/h while the passenger trains at 200km/h.

The heavy freight trains will 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 will include communication systems, construction of bridges and a railway depot at Mirfa.

Signalling and communications along the United Arab Emirates-based 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 will provide 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.