Bids invited in first phase of UAE's first freight rail

Union Railway invites contract bids for the 265km link between fields and port to be awarded next year.

Workers lay railway tracks near a new railway station in Shanghai, China, on Monday, March 1, 2010. China is spending 5 trillion yuan ($732 billion) on new railways by 2020. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
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Union Railway has unveiled a shopping list of 1.5 million tonnes of rock, 55,000 tonnes of steel and 650,000 concrete sleepers for the first phase of its Dh40 billion (US$10.89bn) cross-country rail network.

The state-backed company is inviting companies to register their interest for the first phase of its plans - a 265km length of rail in the Al Gharbia western region connecting the Shah and Habshan oil and gasfields with the port of Ruwais.

Contracts are expected to be awarded next year, with operations starting in 2013. The requirements are huge for the UAE's first freight network, and the first rail line to span the entire length of the country. For the first phase alone, Union will require 1.5 million tonnes of hard rock to serve as ballast for the track, 50,000 tonnes of standard grade rail and 5,000 tonnes of heat-treated rail, to withstand the extreme temperatures of the Gulf.

Another package calls for 84 switches and crossings on concrete beams, and 650,000 pre-cast, concrete sleepers.

Eventually, Union Railway will stretch more than 1,500km and connect industrial and transport centres in all seven emirates, as well as borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Analysts said the project was a complex undertaking, given its routing along sand dunes and other terrain, and had an ambitious schedule to complete the entire project in seven years.

But it also has strong backing from the Government.

"It is a national flagship project and there is great excitement among consultants and contractors, which are forming consortiums," said Jamshid Soheili, the regional director of transport and infrastructure planning at Scott Wilson in Abu Dhabi.

Yesterday's announcement follows other requirements listed by the state-backed company. Last month the firm informed the contracting community of its need for locomotives and freight cars. These include locomotives with a minimum of 4,000 horsepower, electric traction technology, freight wagons with covered hoppers capable of carrying 100 tonnes of granulated sulphur, and electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems.

While the project's scope is still known only on a general level, the companies that become pre-qualified should receive more detailed background studies about the project in the coming weeks, said Mr Soheili.

"We know it's a big project and a long one," he said. "The schedule calls for the appointments taking place in 2011 with view to delivering first section by 2013."

Union's requirements also focus on signalling and train control systems. The rail network will need communications systems including closed-circuit TV and GSM radio.

The line will include a control centre and industrial control systems.

Protective measures include trackside asset protection systems such as hot axle box detection systems. In addition, its network will feature technology to monitor weight and wheel conditions.