Press Dossier   News Category    Economy    Back to the rails: UAE, Saudi Arabia to open train link by 2021

KHALEEJ TIMES, Tuesday, Mar 13, 2018 | Jamadi Al Thani 25, 1439

Back to the rails: UAE, Saudi Arabia to open train link by 2021

Emirates: The $200 billion-plus and 2,117km-long GCC railway network linking the UAE with Saudi Arabia will open by the end of December 2021, says a top official.

"By the end of December 2021 we will have a connection between the UAE and Saudi Arabia," Abdullah Salem Al Kathiri, director-general of the Federal Transport Authority - Land and Maritime, said on the sidelines of the Middle East Rail conference that opened on Monday.

The passenger and cargo network connecting the six GCC states was initially expected to be completed in 2018, but was pushed back to 2021 in the aftermath of the oil price plunge. The UAE suspended construction of its portion of the network in 2016, while Oman said it would shift its focus to building its domestic network.

Last year, Al Kathiri said the 2021 target is a recommendation and there is a big coordination at the ministerial level to achieve this project timeline and to ensure inter-operability and avoid fragmentation.

Currently, Abu Dhabi is on track with its Dh40 billion domestic Etihad Rail project that will link major industrial zones, cities and ports in the UAE, and will eventually connect with the GCC railway. Upon completion, the Etihad Rail network will span approximately 1,200km across the Emirates, providing both freight and passenger services.

The planned combined investments of $30 billion in the UAE's railway networks include that in Abu Dhabi Metro and Light Rail, skyTran Yas Island, the next stages of the Etihad Rail national network, the Dubai Metro extension for Expo 2020 and the new stages of the Al Sufouh Tram.

Along with the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia are also pressing ahead with their domestic rail projects that will offer benefits of health, safety, security and environment for the society and industry. These domestic networks will be part of an integrated transport system where connections are relatively easy and the spread of the network takes people where they want to go quickly and cheaply relative to the alternative of driving or flying.

In addition to offering state-of-the-art freight services, the UAE's Etihad Rail network will also provide passenger services. Once fully established, the passenger network will connect principal centres of population within the UAE, and subsequently other GCC countries, offering a safer, more efficient, more comfortable and more environmentally friendly mode of transport. Passenger trains are expected to carry up to 16 million passengers per year once the project is fully operational.

According to organisers of Middle East Rail 2018, the UAE along with Saudi Arabia account for a huge chunk of the $69 billion worth of rail projects under construction in the GCC.

Speaking at the conference, Khalid Al Sultan, vice-president for infrastructure at Saudi Railway Company (SAR) discussed the company's railway development plans in context of the country's Vision 2030. He shed light on the country's three major railway lines including the Riyadh Dammam Line, North-South Project, connecting major heavy industry hubs for freight projects, and the 453km-long Haramain High Speed Railway project linking the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.

"SAR will soon be floating tenders for the Riyadh-Dammam and the Land Bridge Project," he said.

Dr Abdullah bin Mohammed Belhaif Al Nuaimi, the UAE's Minister of Infrastructure Development and chairman of the Federal Transport Authority - Land and Maritime, recently announced that a federal rail law had also been approved by the UAE Cabinet.

Dr Al Nuaimi, who inaugurated the Rail exhibition where over 290 regional and international railway operators, suppliers and contractors are showcasing the best solutions and innovations, stressed that the UAE has established itself as a global player in the transport infrastructure sector - a sector that plays an important role in any nation's progress. He also expressed his pleasure at the exponential growth in the number of participants as well as the keen interest of key decision-makers in the railway industry.

The minister pointed out that UAE government has developed a clear vision as well as a carefully-planned strategy to play a leadership role in the field of rail transport infrastructure. This will be achieved through regional and international collaboration, developing and re-shaping policies, and enacting laws to promote efficiency as well as safety in this vital sector.

"The UAE, thanks to its visionary leadership, is rapidly moving towards further developing a strong infrastructure in various fields. It has achieved tangible results in this effort and advanced positions in the Global Competitiveness Index, where it was ranked fourth in the quality of infrastructure," said the minister.

"We are keen to learn about international best practices and to benefit from the international expertise, which we believe plays an important role in sustainable development, especially in light of the transformation towards an economy based on knowledge and innovation."

A high-profile delegation from Indian Railways, India's national railway system operated by the Ministry of Railways, will showcase $140 billion worth of current and future rail projects that Indian government is building to upgrade country's urban transportation network.

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