A proposed passenger rail line between Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah received a vote of confidence this week with a major study confirming there would be high demand for the service.
During peak times, up to 16,000 passengers could travel between the three urban centres in one direction every hour, said Graeme Overall, a senior manager of business development at Union Railway, which is building a nationwide rail network in the UAE.
"Our business development team has just concluded a major study into the prospective market on passenger services throughout the UAE and the results are very encouraging," he said at the MEED Abu Dhabi Conference yesterday.
"What is clear is that there is very high potential demand for rail passenger transport."
Although the Dh40 billion (US10.89bn) Union Railway project is geared more towards carrying industrial materials than people, Mr Overall stressed the investigation into a dedicated passenger line was part of a "pre-feasibility study phase".
The entire planned freight network, meanwhile, is based on a feasibility study completed in 2006. Its first project will be to carry thousands of tonnes of granulated sulphur per day from the Shah and Hapshan areas of Abu Dhabi's Western Region. The state-backed rail company recently awarded an engineering contract to Atkins of the UK and safety advisory work to TUV of Germany.
But with the nation's roads becoming more congested, the company is evaluating a dedicated passenger line that would hug the Gulf coast on its way from the UAE capital to dense population centres in Dubai and Sharjah.
It would provide an alternative for the tens of thousands of commuters who travel on the main motorway linking the three urban centres every day.
Union Railway's estimates for demand vary based on the speed of the service, said Mr Overall, although he declined to say whether the options included the possibility of a high-speed bullet train travelling at speeds of about 250kph.
At present, the mixed-use freight and passenger line that will be built further into the desert will allow speeds of 100kph to 150kph, depending on the cargo.
"We need to do the work on how fast it goes, which will affect demand and also the cost," he said. The company plans on sharing the results of its study with key stakeholders in the next few weeks, such as Abu Dhabi's Department of Transport and Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority, he added.