Etihad Rail has released the first images of what the UAE’s new passenger trains will look like.
The striking renderings, published exclusively by The National, show silver and grey carriages emblazoned with the red Etihad Rail logo set against the backdrop of the UAE’s cities, mountains and deserts.
They offer the first detailed look of what awaits people once they step inside the sleek and modern interiors.
Etihad Rail says stations will celebrate the joy of travelling and designs will speak to regional traditions. Some of the stations will be built in the cities but the locations have not been announced yet.
“We see the stations as urban centres where people can gather,” Ahmed Al Hashemi, executive director of Etihad Rail passenger sector, told The National.
“The stations will fit into the environment and become part of urban development.”
Carriages will be equipped with Wi-Fi, entertainment systems, charging points and various food and beverages options and cater to all people in the UAE from families to workers to tourists.
A launch date for the passenger service has not yet been announced but The National was also granted rare access to part of the Abu Dhabi to Dubai line and it provides the most detailed glimpse yet of what awaits passengers.
Test train runs along Abu Dhabi-Dubai route
This section of the track runs parallel to the Emirates Road (E611) motorway, past Al Maktoum Airport and then north to the junction between the Expo Road and the 611 only a stone’s throw from the Expo 2020 Dubai site.
Trains will have drivers and the railway will be integrated in some way with existing public transport such as buses and the metro. A plan is in place to introduce a unified ticket and journey planning system with graded seating including first class. Passengers will also be able to use park and rides.
Customers can expect travel time of 50 minutes between Abu Dhabi and Dubai and about 100 minutes from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah cutting commutes significantly. Construction of the UAE-wide network is advancing rapidly with close to 70 per cent of the twin-track route built.
“You see the track, you have ridden on it,” said Mr Al Hashemi, who has worked for Etihad Rail for 10 years. "It is safer, faster and more convenient.
“You cannot take a city and move it closer to another city but railways can make the travel time shorter. That by itself is getting people and cities closer.
“Passengers can read a book, finish work, be with family and enjoy the time until you get to your destination without being bothered by traffic."
The addition of the passenger rail service was announced in December and marked a key moment for Etihad Rail since its establishment in 2009.
Stage one – a freight service linking the gas fields at Shah and Habshan to Ruwais – opened in 2016, while stage two joins Ghuweifat on the border with Saudi Arabia to Fujairah on the east coast in a line running for about 1,200km. The passenger and freight service will run on the stage two line and it is expected to carry more than 36 million passengers annually by 2030. Additions to the route are expected.
From the hour-long ride on the train, the scale of the project is clear. The track cuts a permanent way through sand dunes, over motorways and past airports. Scores of pipes and overhead cables have been moved, while wildlife and their habitats have been protected through animal crossings and careful relocation.
“We have to assess what would be the optimum route,” said Mr Al Hashemi. “We consider terrain, availability of land and the existing and future infrastructure. There are many points where we intersect with infrastructure we need to take care of.”
A common feature of railways in other countries – level crossings – will not feature in Etihad Rail as the track runs independent to the roads, improving safety and boosting speeds.
“If there is an intersection with roads, we have a bridge, tunnel or an overpass. It is a very challenging part of the network design but comes with great benefits in the long term,” said Mr Al Hashemi.
The statistics speak for themselves. Over the next 50 years, Etihad Rail’s service aims to benefit the economy to the tune of Dh23 billion ($6.26bn), generating direct and indirect economic value of Dh200bn; make Dh8bn savings on road maintenance, while also reducing accidents and deaths on the roads; and providing more than 9,000 jobs by 2030.
“I remember standing on a sand dune or on a hill or mountain,” said Mr Al Hashemi, reflecting on his early days with the railway.
“To come back after several years and see the tracks laid is like a dream come true. It fills me with pride.”