The Government is pushing forward with plans for its public transport system in a bid to overcome road congestion that is stifling the flow of people and goods. New targets for Abu Dhabi's tram, metro rail, regional rail and bus networks are being revealed following a workshop hosted by the Department of Transport (DOT). The transport agency could invite bids for tram and metro construction in Abu Dhabi soon after it releases the Surface Transport Master Plan in February, as the Government races to open the first links of both projects by about 2015.
"We need to get moving on this very quickly," said a transport specialist at the workshop last week. "We are not just going to keep on studying." A freight rail system being overseen by the National Transport Authority is expected to be completed much sooner, however, to coincide with the opening by about 2011 of the Khalifa Port and Industrial Zone in Taweelah. Meanwhile, another 500 buses are expected to be on Abu Dhabi streets by June to bolster the new network.
A comprehensive and multi-layered mass transit system is envisaged for the emirate in the next two decades at a cost that could reach Dh200 billion (US$54.45bn). The framework includes new roads and highways, water taxis, buses, trams, metro and regional rail links. The first section of the freight railway was planned to connect the new port with Abu Dhabi International Airport and Musaffah industrial zone, according to a customs official. "After these first sections it is our idea to link the whole GCC," said Saeed Ahmad al Muhairi, a general manager of the General Administration of Customs, during the International Freight Week exhibition in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Separately, the DOT is planning a passenger rail service to Dubai, which may not be finished until years later.
Plans have moved beyond the conceptual stage to focus on detailed, three-dimensional designs throughout the city. A few months ago, planners may have focused on safeguarding wide rights of way, but efforts are now underway to finalise the network through Abu Dhabi's existing neighbourhoods and new areas envisaged under its 2030 plan. Planners are threading transport systems under and around buildings, and are also considering extensions such as a metro link to Marina Mall.
The construction community is awaiting the terms of reference for the first tram and metro contracts following the completion of the Government's comprehensive Surface Transport Master Plan, which evaluates the benefit of investing in public transport against building more roads and highways. The transport department is giving priority to tram and metro lines within the new central business district and Sowwah Island, which will become the de facto town centre. Meanwhile, the most developed tram work to date is at Raha Beach. Some tough choices are also expected for the heavy rail line. Mr Muhairi said up to 2,000 road lorry trips to the border could be eliminated each day with a railway. However, designing a route network that satisfies both freight and passenger needs is a challenge, according to people at the DOT workshop. This has been highlighted by a discussion on the placing of a railway line to Al Ain. Freight companies would prefer the railway to bypass the city and terminate at the industrial areas, while supporters of a passenger service argue the railway should wind through Al Ain residential areas to better serve these communities.
The freight rail line took several steps closer to reality this year when the Government hired Systra, the French rail firm, and Bechtel, the American contractor, as consultants. A rail committee and a new agency, Union Railway, is overseeing the plans. Several hundred interested parties from the Government and private sector attended the DOT workshop last week. The media and public were excluded, despite being initially invited to participate.