A huge draw for Egypt's tourism industry is the train that runs the length of the country, parallel to the Nile river. From the comfort of private cabins, passengers cross a vast country in a matter of hours, all while viewing the landscapes and sites that make the country the marvel that it is. Egypt’s railways are historic. The first lines were laid in the mid-19th century, making it the first railway in the Middle East.
Many years later, people in the UAE are set to get a dose of this romanticism, after Sunday's news that Etihad Rail, which was originally announced as a freight project, will also include a passenger service that runs across the country. Officials did not announce a start date for the first services, but said that the number of passengers is expected to reach 36.5 million a year by 2030.
These are high projections, but understandable considering the vast convenience and benefit it will bring. With trains set to travel at around 200 kilometres per hour, the journey from Abu Dhabi to Dubai will take just 50 minutes.
For the country as a whole, creating passenger lines will also support a number of long-term goals. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, spoke of the huge reduction in carbon emissions that the railway would bring about. And as the UAE seeks to create green but also profitable initiatives, Etihad Rail makes particular sense. Completed in 2016, the first phase of the railway is already moving industrial products between the country's ports. The wider value of the railway is worth an estimated $54.5 billion.
Much of this will come from tourism, domestic and international. The past year and a half has seen the rise of staycations, and with quick rail links, this type of holidaying is about to become cheaper, faster and greener. It will also link travellers to rail networks in five neighbouring GCC states, a boon for regional tourism. International travellers will profit similarly, bypassing the need to rent cars and navigate a new country on their own.
Behind big numbers, Etihad Rail's deepest significance is that it will change transport in a country that has always been on the move. Construction on the UAE's first paved roads started in 1966. At the time, most journeys would have been done by off-road vehicles at best, and a camel trip from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah would have taken days. On Etihad Rail, it will take an hour and 40 minutes.
Sheikh Mohammed has called the new railway "the largest project to consolidate the strength of the union for the next 50 years". The UAE has emerged strongly from the pandemic, but for the first time in its history it had to put up with unprecedented barriers to internal travel. It is fitting, therefore, that as the country emerges from Covid-19, connection is not just getting back to normal, but reaching new levels.