Growing up in a country without its own railway network, Emirati Maithaa Al Remeithi relished the opportunity to travel by train during holidays abroad with her family.
Whether it was a short ride across London, on the UK’s National Rail or an hours-long stretch across country in Europe, her interest was piqued from a young age.
It is no surprise then that her job now revolves around controlling the operations of locomotives.
The 29-year-old works for Etihad Rail and holds a unique position in the UAE. She is the first and only female Emirati train controller in the country.
"I love the reaction I get from people when I tell them what I do," she told The National.
“They’re always surprised and ask so many questions, like how I was able to start working in such a new industry and gain the knowledge I have at a young age.
“Being the only female Emirati in the control room is an exciting role and one that makes me feel very empowered.
“It’s been an amazing opportunity to serve my country in such a new and emerging field.”
To date, she has completed about 5,500 hours of duty and is approaching her third year in the role.
Ms Al Remeithi graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Science in Electronic Engineering Technology from the Higher Colleges of Technology in 2017.
Living close to the railway tracks in Mirfa, a quiet village west of Abu Dhabi, the ambitious graduate set her sights set on Etihad Rail.
She said wanted to branch out from the rest of her family and enter an industry that was just taking off in the UAE.
Within six months, she went from trainee to full-fledged train controller.
As part of her training with global experts from Etihad Rail DB, the operator of Stage One of the Etihad Rail project, Ms Al Remeithi travelled to Germany and Saudi Arabia to learn about the different operations systems in these countries.
"I was fascinated with the engineering behind different trains," she said.
"There is a lot of intricate detail that goes into making a train and the people who operate them, from the train captain to the train controller, have an important duty to honour these impressive machines with care."
During any one shift, Al Remeithi is tasked with directing trains to and from the depot in Mirfa.
Each day, the trains carry up to 22,000 tonnes of granulated Sulphur – approximately 7.2 million tonnes per year – which is processed for export.
A single train journey removes approximately 300 trucks from the road, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80 per cent compared to the amount emitted by transporting the same tonnage via road.
“My role is complex but exciting,” she said. “I work 12-hour shifts, four on and four off.
“On a typical day we are in charge of the operations of two freight trains."
Each train journey lasts 23 hours, from departing the depot at Mirfa until its return.
“My main tasks include regular communication with the train captain to ensure the journey runs as smoothly as possible, as well as directing traffic movement and keeping the tight schedule on track.”
As an established member of the Etihad Rail team, Ms Al Remeithi now shares her knowledge with recent graduates looking to work in the railway sector through different training programmes.
Etihad Rail was first established in June 2009 under federal law, with the mandate to manage the development, construction and operation of the UAE’s national freight and passenger railway network.
Stage One of the freight network stretches 264 kilometres from gas fields in Shah and Habshan to an export point in Ruwais in Abu Dhabi. It became fully operational in 2016.
No date has been set for passenger operations but Al Remeithi said she hopes to be part of that giant leap in the UAE’s public transport sector.
“I can’t say where I will be in five or 10 years but I do have hopes of inspiring my brothers and sisters in the UAE to be part of this journey our country has embarked on,” she said.
“To know that one day we will have passenger trains in the UAE is exciting and to be able to contribute to the industry is an honour.”