The UAE is on track to have a national transport law by next year to pave the way for US$25 billion of investment in railroads and metros, said the Minister of Public Works.
The new figure, higher than previous estimates of US$22 billion, accounts for inflation as well as newer technologies such as high-speed trains. A law covering safety regulation and operational standards is expected to be passed next year in time for the launch of the nation's first railway line.
"We want to make the United Arab Emirates again as a hub," said Abdulla Al Nuaimi, the Minister of Public Works and chairman of the National Transport Authority (NTA).
Officials hope the law will make it easier for foreign companies to enter the market. GCC investment in public transportation has picked up in recent months, as Abu Dhabi moves ahead with an $8 billion metro system and Doha and Riyadh award billions of dollars of contracts.
The UAE's railway and metro investment over the next decade is projected to account for a tenth of Middle East rail spending overall. The first phase, an industrial line to send cargoes of sulphur from the Shah sour gasfield to Habshan, is on track for completion this year, said Mr Al Nuaimi.
In the second phase, the UAE plans to lay 628 kilometres of track connecting major cities and industrial hubs, including Dubai Industrial City, Jebel Ali, Musaffah, Fujairah and Khalifa Port. That domestic railway would link up to an international railway network connecting all the GCC states that is scheduled for completion in 2018.
The GCC is in the process of creating a central transportation authority to deal with the immigration, tax and customs issues that would arise with a regional railway system scheduled to launch in five years, said Nadhem bin Taher, the executive director of the NTA's service centres sector.
One question that officials have not yet resolved is how Dubai and Abu Dhabi will be linked. Officials at Etihad Rail, the NTA, Abu Dhabi's Department of Transport and Dubai's Roads and Transportation Authority are evaluating the merits of light rail vs heavy rail, or a combination of the two, that could also serve passengers.
Officials have recently visited South Korea and China to see train systems that can travel at speeds higher than 400 kph.
"Definitely this will be in the near future," said Mr bin Taher. "We are talking in terms of priorities. The most important thing for us now is the freight movement. This will save infrastructure and this will save fatalities."