Etihad Rail, the UAE’s national rail network, is set to begin commercial operations by 2015, a senior Federal Transport Authority (FTA) official said.
In his opening remarks at the ongoing Middle East Rail conference, FTA Director General Salem Ali Zaabi said: “In 2015, there will be milestone for the UAE as we will start operating the first phase of the 240 kilometres of rail network in the region.
“The second phase of the network will be finished by 2016 while all three phases will be completed by 2018.”
The first phase of the Dhs40 billion Etihad Rail project, has been in the testing stage since 2013. A 266-kilometre long rail network constructed at a cost of Dhs4.7 billion, it will run from Shah and Habshan to Ruwais, carrying sulphur granules from ADNOC factories to Ruwais port.
Although the initial communication was that the first phase will begin commercial operations in 2014, rail authorities said that the network is still under the testing phase.
However, officials at both the FTA and Etihad Rail that Gulf Business spoke to denied any delays and said that the rail network was scheduled to begin commercial operations in 2015. But no specific date was given for the actual start.
Earlier this year, UAE’s Minister of Public Works Abdullah Al Nuaimi confirmed that the UAE government is allocating Dhs700 million to start construction on phase two, which is in the tendering phase.
“In UAE, our plans are big. Today we are looking at connections from different ports that are not there in the map yet,” said Al Nuaimi.
He did not specify whether these new connections implied extra links to the rail network or an extension to the project.
The UAE has also made significant headway in developing its rail projects during the last year, FTA officials said during the event.
“FTA is working keenly on forming laws and regulations to govern the railways. We have also signed conventions and memorandum of understandings to implement our railway system,” said Al Zaabi.
He added that authorities will soon be completing the legal framework to govern the federal rail network and implement safety standards.
Among the GCC states, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are the leaders in rail investment with both planning major networks carrying both freight and passenger services.
The UAE alone is planning to invest $25 billion in its railway infrastructure, accounting for 10 per cent of the entire MENA region’s investment in the sector.