The UAE's plans to complete its national railway segments from Fujairah to Al Ghuwaifat to the border of Saudi Arabia are on track as it seeks to boost its economic competitiveness and reduce carbon emissions, Suhail Al Mazrouei, Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, has said.
Last month, Etihad Rail said that construction work for the 139-kilometre package A of stage two and its connection through Al Ghuwaifat with stage one, which extends 264 kilometres from Habshan to Al Ruwais, was completed two months before schedule. A spokesperson for Etihad Rail told The National: "The Etihad Rail project is on track and we continue to work at an unprecedented pace to establish a new era for transport and logistics in the country".
When complete, the railway network will link the main centres of population and industry in the UAE and will form a vital part of the railway network across the Gulf region, connecting the seven emirates of the UAE to five neighbouring GCC countries.
The UAE, already one of the world's largest logistics and transportation hubs, is working on connectivity between its ports, airports and manufacturing hubs to boost freight volumes, enhance its logistics sector and facilitate trade.
The focus on logistics comes as the UAE seeks to diversify its economy away from oil and boost alternative revenue streams. Its 1,200km national railway is part of wider plans to connect with the networks of other Gulf countries.
Asked about the time frame for linking the UAE and Saudi Arabia by rail for the transport of goods and passengers in the broader GCC rail network, Mr Al Mazrouei said that the kingdom is “working very hard” on segments of its own national railway network.
“We are looking at the engagement between the [rail] operators themselves having that discussion and we hope that together we can establish that linkage as soon as possible,” he said, without providing a timeline for the UAE-Saudi Arabia link.
Etihad Rail will help the UAE achieve its target for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 as it provides an alternative to vehicles to move goods.
“When you move goods by railway instead of cars, you're already reducing the emissions by 70 to 80 per cent,” the minister said. “Building the network further is going to help us once we connect with Saudi Arabia to further reduce CO2 emissions. It's not only a one-country initiative. Net-zero and the commitment which all of the countries will pledge in Cop26 will be part of whole region and world's commitment.”
Countries around the world are taking a pledge to reach net-zero emissions by the middle of the century to mitigate climate change. The UAE is the latest country to commit to carbon neutrality and is the first in the Middle East and North Africa and only Gulf oil exporting nation to make the pledge.
The use of green financing instruments to steer capital towards sustainable projects will come into sharper focus in the future as more governments pledge climate goals, Mr Al Mazrouei said.
“Allowing green financing to happen to reduce emissions, I think that's something that's going to be in the future part of the different initiatives that the financiers will have to pledge to support the reduction of CO2 emissions,” he added.
During his keynote speech at the Middle East Rail event, the minister highlighted the need for “transformation to modern and sustainable mobility” where digitisation and AI will change the way the transport industry operates.
“Working on improving transportation efficiency and sustainability and reducing CO2 emissions in this important sector is critical as the world is discussing climate change mitigation and net-zero targets,” he said.
Countries in the region working on their railway networks must also be open to working with the private sector to create public-private partnerships to develop more projects and update regulations to allow such investments to take place, the minister said.
The six-month Expo 2020 Dubai, which started earlier this month with the participation of 192 countries, is an opportunity to discuss the future of mobility at a wider scale, he said.