Etihad Rail aims to bring luxury railway service to UAE to boost tourism

The railway operator and Italian luxury hospitality company Arsenale have signed a deal to bring 'rail cruising' to the Emirates

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A luxury train service is set to bring a new golden age of rail travel to the UAE.

The country's railway operator, Etihad Rail, and Italian luxury hospitality company Arsenale on Tuesday signed an agreement at Abu Dhabi's Middle East Rail conference to establish the service.

A launch date was not revealed but the service, which has been called a “rail cruise”, is expected to cross the UAE from Fujairah in the east down to the historic Liwa desert in Abu Dhabi. The train will consist of 15 luxury carriages and work on them is being undertaken in Puglia and Sicily, Arsenale said.

It brings to mind the great railway journeys of yesteryear such as the famed Orient Express.

More details are expected in the coming months but Arsenale said the carriages will reflect Emirati heritage, while the “production, craftsmanship, quality of on-board services, interior design and know-how will be Italian, and the ‘made in Italy’ signature branding will be the basis on which the entire project will be developed”.

It comes as developments on the UAE-wide railway network move full steam ahead. The network was formally opened in February with a freight service now operating. A passenger service is also advancing rapidly.

“Our collaboration with Arsenale is a testament to Etihad Rail’s commitment to drive economic and social growth in the UAE through the National Rail Network,” said Shadi Malak, chief executive of Etihad Rail, in statement released on Wednesday.

“By establishing a luxury train experience, we are introducing a unique world-class offering to the region and contributing to boosting the tourism sector in the UAE.

“Furthermore, we will be able to showcase the country’s diverse heritage and beauty to visitors from around the world.”

It is Arsenale’s second international luxury train project following the recent announcement of The Dream of the Desert project in Saudi Arabia. And it is envisaged the UAE service will eventually extend into the GCC. Arsenale is also planning to operate a luxury train service called " La Dolce Vita" in Italy.

“We are thrilled to work together with Etihad Rail on this ground-breaking project that will promote the discovery of a magical and exciting territory outside of the renowned destinations of Abu Dhabi and Dubai,” said Paolo Barletta, chief executive of Arsenale.

“Railway cruising is the future of tourism and Arsenale wants to make it available in the world’s most beautiful places, introducing this fascinating and sustainable new way of travelling,” he said.

“We are delighted to announce that UAE will be one of the first countries in the world to launch this unique service with us. I want to thank Etihad Rail for believing in this project since the beginning. With this signing, we are ready to work tirelessly to enable travellers to soon come on board of our train, discovering the enchanting natural wonders of UAE.”

The Orient Express was established in 1883 and ran from Paris to Istanbul. It became synonymous with sophistication and glamour.

Railway travel is also undergoing something on a resurgence, buoyed by people's desire to travel more sustainably and without the hassle of airports. OBB, Austria’s national rail operator, for example is launching new sleeper cars on its services across Europe. Other European railway operators are planning similar initiatives.

More deals struck at rail event

Etihad Rail signed seven agreements during the major transport event aimed at driving the development of its freight and passenger services.

The national rail operator agreed partnerships with ride-hailing company Uber and drone cargo specialist, SkyGo.

“The agreement with Uber is in line with Etihad Rail’s efforts to improve the quality of life of people around the country, by supporting our ability to provide accessible transportation across the UAE, including in areas with limited accessibility,” said Mr Malak.

No further details were disclosed on the agreement with Uber.

“With SkyGo, we are collaborating on freight train drone inspection, utilising the company’s technology to benefit from data services, and the agreement is yet another example of our drive to innovate, establish new processes, and build on our existing digitalisation efforts,” added Mr Malek.

Etihad Rail signed a 20-year partnership agreement with DHL Global Forwarding to set up a joint venture as part of the country's efforts to strengthen its freight network.

The joint venture will enable DHL to use Etihad Rail’s network to conduct its main operations within the UAE, Etihad Rail said in statement on Tuesday.

Etihad Rail project – in numbers

Updated: May 18, 2023, 9:26 AM