It is one of the grandest engineering projects under way in the UAE, but what do we know about Etihad Rail?
Work on the 1,000-kilometre east coast line from Ghuweifat to Fujairah is well under way, with construction of track connecting Ruwais with Ghuweifat, on the Emirates’ border with Saudi Arabia, one of the latest developments.
Freight will be the main beneficiary of Etihad Rail, opening new logistic arteries for commerce in what has been hailed as one of the most important regional economic strategies in recent times.
The UAE network will eventually form part of a wider GCC rail service.
When did the project begin and who is building it?
Work on Etihad Rail began back in 2009. The plan was to build both a passenger network and freight routes but the commercial benefits of moving cargo switched initial focus towards freight.
The UAE awarded a Dh4.6 billion civil works and construction contract in a joint venture between China Railway Construction Corporation and National Projects and Construction to develop Package D of stage two of the project.
Where will trains connect to?
Gas fields at Shah and Habshan are already connected by Etihad Rail to Ruwais.
Fujairah port will also soon be linked to the network at the Dubai-Sharjah border via a 145km stretch of line.
Abu Dhabi's Khalifa Port and Mussaffah industrial zone will also be joined with Jebel Ali port in Dubai and the Port of Fujairah.
What are the benefits of Etihad Rail?
There are many. Reducing carbon emission in the UAE has been a core pledge of government policy, with a comprehensive freight train network capable of taking hundreds of gas-guzzling heavy goods vehicles off the road.
A fully loaded freight train can carry the equivalent cargo of 300 lorries, reducing carbon dioxide emission by up to 80 per cent.
Greenhouse gases will be slashed by more than 2.2 million tonnes a year once the network is fully operational.
An estimated 375,000 vehicles will be taken off the roads, reducing congestion and collisions.
The financial benefits are potentially huge, offering a Dh186 billion economic boost over the next 40 years thanks to vastly improved logistical and commercial opportunities.
The jobs market is also expected to see substantial growth with new roles specially created from Etihad Rail in the years ahead.
How easy is it to build a rail network of this size?
With track snaking through the vast empty desert landscape, construction is relatively straightforward.
But some mountainous regions require serious civil engineering works.
At least 15 tunnels will be excavated through the Hajjar Mountains, with a further 35 bridges designed for heavy cargo loads.
How many trains will use the network?
A recent announcement the national railway was to triple its fleet of wagons has been a huge boost to international trade.
A contract to manufacture and supply 842 carriages will take the total fleet to more than 1,000, an eightfold increase in Etihad Rail's transport capacity.
Petrochemicals, aggregates, construction materials, industrial waste, aluminium, perishable goods, and general domestic and international cargo will be carried.
Will passengers be able to ride on Etihad Rail?
In the future, yes. While increasing freight opportunities is the focus for now, passenger transport will become a key part of the project in the years to come.
Etihad Rail is working closely with the Federal Transport Authority and transport authorities across the Emirates to develop existing networks and hubs to improve passenger connections.
Eventually, population hubs across the country will be connected to neighbouring GCC states offering a reliable, safer, more efficient, comfortable and environmentally friendly way to travel across the region.