The second stage of the UAE’s national railway network that will ultimately stretch more than 600 kilometres is on track.
The National took a 10km journey on board an Etihad Rail inspection train, from Saih Shuaib to Al Maha Forest in Abu Dhabi, to see how construction was progressing.
From Saih Shuaib, tracks are being laid north towards Dubai and south towards Abu Dhabi, creating a rail link for the first time between the two emirates.
“It’s all hands on deck to complete the rail network,” said Omar Al Sebeyi, acting executive director of the commercial sector at Etihad Rail, as he pointed at construction workers who were laying tracks and building bridges and tunnels on the route.
Stage one of Etihad Rail, a 264km line, has been fully operational since January 2016.
Two trains transport up to 22,000 tonnes of granulated sulphur each day from gasfields in Shah and Habshan to an export point in Ruwais, about 240km west of Abu Dhabi city.
The second stage of the network will extend from Ghuwaifat on the border with Saudi Arabia and connect the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah on the east coast.
The fleet will expand from seven to 45 locomotives, and transport 60 million tonnes of cargo a year.
Teams began laying tracks on Package A of stage two, a slice of network stretching across Abu Dhabi, in January, while track-laying on Package B, which connects Dubai and Abu Dhabi, commenced in June.
Track-laying for Package C, running through Dubai and Sharjah to connect with the northern emirates, and Package D, which connects Sharjah with Fujairah Port, will begin in coming months.
Recently, excavation work was completed on the longest tunnel in the region. Measuring 1.8km, the tunnel connects the port of Fujairah on the emirate's eastern seaboard with the rest of the UAE and GCC rail network.
In addition, 160 bridges are being constructed across Dubai and the Northern Emirates.
After the completion of stage two and other future expansion works, the rail network will stretch about 1,200km across the country and carry both passengers and freight. Authorities said it would reduce road haulage in the UAE, taking 2.5 million lorry trips off the motorways each year.
In March, Etihad Rail announced it had completed 34 per cent the network.
A scenic route
The inspection train passed through the lush green area of the Al Maha Forest, where trees and shrubs line the route.
“Special care is taken to protect wildlife and natural habitats,” said Mr Al Sebeyi.
The rail operator has partnered with environmental agencies, including the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi and Emirates Nature-WWF.
“We have built a series of animal crossings and culverts to ensure the UAE national railway network does not interrupt any natural animal migration. We have integrated over 95 animal crossings and culverts into the project,” he said.
On Package A of the network, Etihad Rail has built 22 gazelle underpasses, 10 camel underpasses and 78 reptile underpasses. On Package B, it is constructing 23 gazelle underpasses, six camel underpasses and 51 reptile underpasses.
As part of its environmental initiatives, Etihad Rail translocated 550 ghaf trees and replanted 590. The company also implemented strict measures to protect wildlife in the Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, including speed limitations and a ‘no-horn zone’ around the area.
In addition, it relocated more than 300 species of wildlife in the Misanad Nature Reserve in Sharjah, including snakes, Cheesman’s Gerbils, scorpions, and gecko, the endangered lizard.