Hello and welcome to Emirati, a monthly newsletter from The National.
Ahead of the UAE celebrating 52 years since its founding, all eyes are set to be on Dubai from Thursday as the country hosts the UN climate summit, Cop28. With world leaders coming to the country for the historic climate talks, the UAE will unite this weekend to mark the birth of a nation and reflect on a remarkable development journey.
It was on December 2, 1971, that the Rulers of six emirates came together to form the fledgling UAE. Ras Al Khaimah would join the union weeks later, in February 1972, completing the Emirates as it is known today.
It is fitting, therefore, that we are able highlight the UAE leadership's renewed efforts to deepen connections in the country and set a path for further prosperity, in the form of the Etihad Rail mega project.
Adhraa Al Mansoori, director of public policy and sustainability at Etihad Rail, told The National that the landmark initiative is a "literal representation of the UAE’s union".
"A project that connects the seven emirates – linking cities, people, business – it embodies the spirit of the union and is the reason why we as Emiratis are so proud of it and look forward to the future ahead," she said.
Ensuring Emirati talent is positioned in the engine room of this milestone nationwide drive is key.
In this edition, we bring you an exclusive interview with the UAE's first-ever Emirati train drivers, who dream of one day transporting millions of passengers across the country - including one very special guest.
This National Day, we will celebrate not just our unity but how far we have come, and how much further there is still to travel.
Thank you for reading,
Shireena Al Nowais
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Emirati train driver's passenger service dream
A trailblazing Emirati train driver has told of her dream of being at the helm of the UAE's landmark rail passenger service – with President Sheikh Mohamed on board.
Sara Al Mazroui, 24, is one of four forward-thinking citizens in the driving seat of Etihad Rail's impressive freight fleet, which is already helping to connect the country's centres of trade and industry.
The country's first female train captain is eager to be a driving force behind the nationwide mega project and inspire other women to get on the fast-track to success.
"I feel proud that I've paved the way for other women who desire to explore a unique sector.
"I hope to do my first passenger trip with President Sheikh Mohamed on board."
Both Ms Al Mazroui and fellow Emirati train driver Ibrahim Al Hammadi, 25, got on the fast-track to success after graduating from the Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute railways diploma programme.
Ms Al Mazroui says she relishes the chance to embark on long journeys which allow her to see new parts of the UAE's sprawling landscape.
“I love every part of this job, but this must be my favourite part ... the night trips," Ms Al Mazroui says of her twilight train rides.
“The train allows me to see areas in the UAE that I would never have seen before and would never have experienced if not for this job.
"I do sometimes feel like a tourist and wonder how, as an Emirati, I never knew these places existed. Going through the farms at night and seeing the animals grazing in the fields is beautiful. You feel like you are all alone in the world, and it is just you and nature.”
Did you know?
Etihad Rail's freight network is expected to transport about 20 million tonnes of cargo across the UAE this year alone.
Find out more about the national rail network's landmark achievements here
Etihad Rail aims to deliver luxury railway service
A luxury train service is set to bring a new golden age of rail travel to the UAE.
The country's railway operator, Etihad Rail, and Italian luxury hospitality company Arsenale signed an agreement at Abu Dhabi's Middle East Rail conference in May to establish the service.
A launch date was not revealed but the service, which has been called a “rail cruise”, is expected to cross the UAE from Fujairah in the east down to the historic Liwa desert in Abu Dhabi. The train will consist of 15 luxury carriages and work on them is being undertaken in Puglia and Sicily, Arsenale said.
It brings to mind the great railway journeys of yesteryear such as the famed Orient Express.
More details are expected in the coming months but Arsenale said the carriages will reflect Emirati heritage, while the “production, craftsmanship, quality of on-board services, interior design and know-how will be Italian, and the ‘made in Italy’ signature branding will be the basis on which the entire project will be developed”.
It comes as developments on the UAE-wide railway network move full steam ahead. The network was formally opened in February with a freight service now operating. A passenger service is also advancing rapidly.
Freight service aims to cut travel times for motorists
Commuters will benefit from Etihad Rail’s freight network as huge numbers of lorries are taken off the UAE's roads, making them safer, a top executive has said.
Gottfried Eymer, the new chief executive of the Etihad Rail freight network, said the shift of so many heavy goods vehicles from roads to the railway would also reduce travel times for motorists.
Mr Eymer said the freight network would bring big social and environmental benefits as well as economic advantages.
“The benefit for people will be very good and positive,” said Mr Eymer, a freight rail industry veteran from Germany. “Instead of 300 lorries, you have one train driver. Instead of people waiting in traffic jams, we are moving lorries to railway. As we are providing those services on a different network, we are delivering the streets for daily road transport.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Eymer also talked about what he wants to achieve as chief executive, how freight will transform the UAE, and how he was stunned by the scale and ambition of the project.