Etihad Rail, the UAE’s megaproject to link the country’s centres of trade, industry and population, will expand by nearly 80 per cent of its current track capacity in the coming years.
In a coastal village west of Abu Dhabi city, engineers, technicians and mechanics work day and night to keep the project on track.
The depot in Mirfa serves as the centre of operations that maintains and services all movement between the trains and track.
When complete, it will stretch about 1,200km across the country and will carry both passengers and freight.
Here's a glimpse of how the project will meet the global supply-demand needs of today.
What is Etihad rail - and where does it go?
Etihad Rail was first established in 2009 and stage one of the project became operational in 2016.
Each day, two trains run across the country, capable of transporting up to 22,000 tonnes of sulphur, and each train is fit to take up to 110 wagons on any one journey.
When complete, the railway network will link the main centres of population and industry in the UAE and will form a vital part of the planned railway network across the Gulf region, connecting the seven emirates of the country to the five neighbouring GCC states.
Since 2016, two tracks – spanning 264 kilometres – have been in operation transporting granulated sulphur from gasfields in Shah and Habshan to an export point in Ruwais.
In stage two of the project, more than 600 kilometres of additional track will be laid down from Ghuweifat, on the border with Saudi Arabia, to Fujairah on the east coast.
Trains and wagons
Seven locomotives are in operation along the tracks, which run through rural areas in Abu Dhabi, delivering sulphur to its clients.
The state-of-the-art trains were bought in from US-based Electro-Motive Diesel and are equipped with in-cab European signalling systems. Those who operate the trains from the train cab and control room communicate in English only.
Weighing 30 tonnes each unloaded, and 130 tonnes loaded, the wagons that are pulled behind the trains are fully equipped with extended safety features, including electronically controlled pneumatic brakes and derailment protection.
For stage two of the project, the train fleet will increase to 45 locomotives and will connect the Emirates via Abu Dhabi, Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi, Khalifa Port, Jebel Ali Port, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah.
Last year, the first batch of Emirati students graduated with a diploma specialising in railways through a programme launched by Etihad Rail. Maithaa Al Remeithi also became the first female Emirati train controller in the country, at the age of 29.
One freight train replaces hundreds of lorries
Rail travel scores highly as far as its sustainable viability goes and that has to be celebrated.
Once fully operational, the fleet of trains and wagons running on the Etihad Rail network will replace 5,600 on-road truck trips per day. A fully loaded train also emits up to 80 per cent less carbon dioxide than lorries transporting the same tonnage.
Based on traffic volume forecasts, the Etihad Rail network will reduce greenhouse gases by more than 2.2 million tonnes annually once fully operational, the equivalent of taking up to 375,000 vehicles off the roads.
What can be transported on the trains?
By connecting a country’s trade centres, rail acts as a catalyst for economic growth. In the coming years, wagons running along the Etihad Rail tracks will ship anything from consumer goods to perishable food and beverages.
Some of the typical products expected to move across the Emirates include hay, ceramics, polymers, sugar, metals, waste and shipping containers.
The type of wagons used will vary, depending on the type of cargo being transported. They include intermodal steel containers; flat-bed wagons; rail gondolas with low-side walls for loose bulk materials and temperature-controlled carriages.
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 and more efficient, comfortable and environmentally friendly way to travel across the region.