Etihad Rail sets out conservation efforts as major project takes shape

Hundreds of trees and animals relocated while special crossings and no-horn zones will be introduced under construction plan

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Wildlife corridors and special animal crossings will be built with speed limits and no-horn zones in place along the near 1,200km Etihad Rail line as construction gathers pace.

Khuloud Al Mazrouei, deputy project manager at Etihad Rail, told The National of the steps being taken to safeguard nature as the national rail network takes shape.

She said 1,300 ghaf trees and hundreds of sidr trees and date palms have been relocated to preserve biodiversity and natural heritage.

More than 300 animals have been relocated as part of the initiative, including 242 short-fingered geckos, 24 baluch rock gecko and five saw-scaled vipers ― a venomous snake found in the UAE ― among others.

Once complete, the rail network will connect regions of the UAE with the rest of the Gulf. Stage one of the project is operational and is used to transport goods and materials across the Emirates.

The project is now 70 per cent complete and the railway line between Abu Dhabi and Dubai was joined up in March and connected to Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah in October this year.

Khuloud Al Mazrouei says Etihad Rail is focused on protecting the UAE's wildlife and biodiversity

Ms Al Mazrouei said the areas where Etihad Rail passes through the UAE, from the border of Saudi Arabia to Fujairah, are home to a rich variety of wildlife.

Working to protect nature

For example, Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, an area protected by Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, is about 270m from the proposed route of the railway.

The reserve is home to about 250 species of birds, 37 types of plant and a wide range of aquatic life.

“The project’s schedule was calibrated to avoid construction during the breeding season of birds, especially the greater flamingos,” Ms Al Mazrouei said.

As many as 4,000 flamingos live in the reserve during the autumn and spring seasons.

She said there are speed limits for trains when passing by.

“We have also introduced a ‘no-horn zone’ to reduce noise disturbance, and buffer zones are created to reduce dust pollution during the construction period,” she said.

“EAD and Etihad Rail are constructing wildlife corridors along the nearly 1,200km stretch of the railway line and are integrating 95 animal crossings and culverts across the project."

The company is undertaking a range of initiatives including habitat conservation, animal protection, and rehabilitating native trees and shrubs in Abu Dhabi, in collaboration with EAD, to conserve the UAE’s diverse natural heritage.

In Al Dhafra area of Abu Dhabi, Etihad Rail is working with the International Fund for Houbara Conservation to introduce new feeding grounds for the vulnerable bird species.

“Conservationists will also plant 750 arak trees and 3,200 plants in the new grounds for feeding and habitation that spans an area of 500,000 square metres, and these will support houbara, which migrate into the UAE from Asia,” Ms Al Mazrouei said.

To offset the effects of rail development on the natural environment and local communities, the company has also teamed up with Emirates Nature-WWF, a non-profit organisation in Dubai.

Several initiatives are being undertaken to engage with local communities to raise awareness and reduce exploitation of wild species, including birds, bats and animals, that are part of UAE’s rich biodiversity.

The official said a team of environmental impact assessment specialists, ecologists, air and noise scientists, as well as forestry specialists review the project’s environmental impacts.

“Extensive studies to understand species’ movement routes across the construction path of the project have also been carried out, including habitat surveys and detailed environmental baseline surveys. We have been actively relocating native and high-value trees, such as sidr and date palms, and have also successfully trans-located more than 1,300 ghaf trees so far.”

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Additionally, different types of fencing, including boundary, sand mitigation, security, anti-dazzle and military fences, segregate all the Etihad Rail right-of-way corridors and provide a secure and well-maintained environment for people and wildlife in the surrounding areas.

To reduce the carbon footprint of the rail project and meet the UAE’s climate change targets, she said Etihad Rail’s locomotives meet Tier 3 engine emission levels, adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency, to minimise emissions and oxides.

“Etihad Rail has also collaborated with the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre to provide satellite imagery and data, which will augment construction operations, bolster environmental protection, and support sustainability goals. Each decision is made with the objective of creating net impact for society and the communities surrounding the rail network,” she said.

Updated: December 19, 2022, 5:47 PM