Etihad Rail's Abu Dhabi-Dubai passenger trains will transform UAE, says eco-traveller

Campaigner who travelled from Netherlands to UAE by public transport looks forward to emirates-wide rail network

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The Dutch eco-traveller who travelled to Dubai from Amsterdam on public transport said there is an emerging trend of people seeking alternatives to planes for travel.

Wiebe Wakker, 35, who delivered a speech at the International Association of Public Transport regional congress in Dubai on Sunday, travelled to the UAE by rail, bus, and car to highlight sustainability issues.

Mr Wakker used the platform to urge more people to consider alternatives to travelling by plane.

"People want to ditch the plane as more are becoming interested in taking trains and other forms of public transport," Mr Wakker said.

It’s important to live a life with a low-carbon footprint
Wiebe Wakker

“If you travel by plane it changes your day; if you travel by train it changes your life.

“It’s important to live a life with a low-carbon footprint.”

He praised Etihad Rail’s passenger train project that will transport passengers across the Emirates, and eventually connect with other countries in the region.

“It’s great news for everyone as it will connect people in countries all across the GCC,” said Mr Wakker.

“It will also reduce the need for people to use cars, which is, in turn, good news for sustainability.”

The Dutchman made headlines in 2019 when he completed a 100,000-kilometre journey from his home country to New Zealand, making the entire three-year trip in his electric car.

He was originally invited to speak at the Dutch pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai on the back of his globetrotting exploits and decided to make a similar eco-journey from the Netherlands to the Emirates.

The event at Expo was cancelled at the last minute due to the rise in Covid-19 cases brought about by the Omicron variant, but he did get to speak at the World Future Energy Summit, as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

“It didn’t make sense to take a plane to travel halfway around the world to talk about the value of sustainable travel,” he said.

“I couldn’t take my car again because it’s now a museum piece after the first journey.

“The only logical option was to take the train.”

However, his plan to complete the journey using public ground transport alone was hit by problems at the Iranian border, which was closed at the time to all but cargo transport.

Mr Wakker was forced to rethink his plan and took a flight from Erbil to Amman instead.

He completed his journey to Abu Dhabi by taking a 856-km bus journey from Amman to Hail, following by a train from Hail to Riyadh. The final leg was a 906-km bus trip to the UAE capital.

Despite the flight, his carbon dioxide footprint was 60 per cent less than travelling direct from Amsterdam to Dubai.

He said the decision to travel mostly by land was one of the best he has ever made.

“I wasn’t sure because I thought it might be boring sitting on a train for days on end,” he said.

“I was wrong because it was an amazing experience to see the changes in the scenery.

“I went from travelling through big cities in the Netherlands and Germany to going through snow in Austria and then being in the desert. It was surreal to do all that in one journey — it never would have happened if I just took a plane.”

Mr Wakker was grateful to be able to address the audience at the conference, especially because of the challenges he had faced along the way.

“I was really sad when I got the call the event at Expo was cancelled because that’s why I was travelling,” he said.

“I was delighted that my story had been noticed by the organisers of the transport congress who invited me to speak at the event today.”

Etihad Rail builds Abu Dhabi-Dubai track: in pictures

Updated: February 08, 2022, 3:59 AM