In a quiet coastal town about 150 kilometres west of Abu Dhabi city sits the nerve centre of the UAE’s railway project.
Lines stretching across the desert, tunnels bored through mountains and bridges built to carry heavy loads – if there ever was an Emirati megaproject, this is it.
And at the Mirfa railway base, technicians inspect carriages, engines are put through their paces in harsh conditions and tracks are inspected.
Stage one of Etihad Rail – linking the gasfields at Shah and Habshan to Ruwais – is already in operation.
Now the second stage of the project – stretching about 1,000km from Ghuweifat on the border with Saudi Arabia to Fujairah on the UAE’s east coast – is advancing rapidly.
Workers must dig at least 15 tunnels through the Hajjar Mountains and build about 35 bridges designed for heavy cargo loads.
Etihad Rail also said in January it started construction of the 139km stretch connecting the existing line at Ruwais to Ghuweifat. Close to 59 per cent of the project has been completed, it said then.
Etihad Rail was created in 2009. Freight is the focus but its original mandate included a potential passenger element.
It is also envisaged that the UAE lines could form part of a wider GCC rail network.