Sharjah has unveiled the UAE’s first high-speed electric sky pod network.
Unitsky String Technologies of Belarus is building a 2km suspended track at Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park.
Designed in Belarus by Anatoli Unitsky, a scientist and member of the Russian Cosmonautics Federation, the sustainable electric elevated transportation system could be carrying its first passengers within weeks.
A development site at the park already has a working 400-metre track that carries a suspended pod built to withstand the extreme Middle East climate.
This pilot project is expected to start carrying passengers in luxury pods from March this year.
Another 2km test track is due to open at the park in May. And within three years, a 130km sky track from Sharjah to Khor Fakkan port could be operational to transport freight.
The track will allow suspended pods hanging on a super-strong string rail to travel at a speed of 500kph once a full-length line is open.
Oleg Zaretskiy, UST's chief executive in the UAE, said the cost of building the network was comparable or cheaper than laying new roads and required vastly less maintenance over time.
“From a distance, it may look like a cable car - but it is light-years away,” he said.
“Ropes and rolling wheels restrict that format to low speeds because of friction and load. This Unitsky String Technology is more like a railroad, with wheels rolling on a rail," he said.
“There is steel-to-steel friction so it means it consumes much less energy than cars. It is a power-saving solution, with an electrical motor that can be operated partly by solar or wind energy.”
The project is supported by the Sharjah Government.
A test site is operational in Belarus at the Echotechnopark in Maryina Gorka.
By taking the pods aerial, land is preserved for green open spaces and development for retail and residential real estate.
The rail itself has guaranteed durability of 100 years and avoids corrosion by encasing eight pre-stressed wires inside a polymer solution to protect it from harsh environments.
An ‘urban light’ track can carry pods of up to 14 passengers at speeds of 150kph, while larger carriages transport passengers in either 48 or 75 capacity pods at 500kph.
If a track was laid between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the travel time would be reduced to less than 20 minutes.
Cargo pods can carry up to 25 tonnes at a time, at 130kph, greatly reducing the need for heavy goods vehicles clogging up roads.
“Comparisons with a metro system are difficult, as the price of cement varies greatly around the world so construction can be very expensive,” said Mr Zaretskiy.
“The UST system is much more flexible in route alignment, so is considerably cheaper.”
The company claims its operating costs are less than half of conventional railway transport and a third of the costs of building and maintaining a road of a similar distance.
It is also considerably cheaper to build and operate than a magnetic levitation system, such as a Hyperloop or a monorail, the company claimed.
“We don't need to build roads or demolish houses like when developing other infrastructure, so we can bring this transport system very close to people’s homes.
“In cities where land is very expensive, this is a great solution.”
Construction costs for an overpass with conventional supports is around $100 million a kilometre, but the UST system costs are $10m a kilometre, said the company.
Pods have luxurious interiors, with leather seats, air-conditioning, television screens and a panoramic view of the surroundings.
Rails can run cargo pods above and passenger capsules below a track. Industrial blowers attached to the pods ensure rails remain clear of sand and debris.
An anti-derailment system with several braking points ensures pods are safe in an emergency.
Electric emergency batteries are partially powered by renewable energy, making its carbon footprint lower than traditional transport systems.
“This technology could be used anywhere in the world, over sea, land or even in the mountains,” said Mr Zaretskiy.
“It would be ideal for somewhere like the World Islands in Dubai where guests could be transported easily from the mainland to hotels.
“This is the future of transport.”