Abdullah Mohammad Bel Haif Al Nuaimi and Dr Abdullah Salem Al Khateri announce the details of the Middle East Railway Conference in Dubai. Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Dubai: The UAE’s new federal railway law will provides a regulatory framework to reassure private rail investors, a senior federal minister said on Thursday.

Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, UAE Minister of Infrastructure Development and Chairman of the Federal Transport Agency — Land & Maritime (FTA-LM), said the law, approved by the UAE cabinet on Wednesday, would allow future development of railways.

Speaking at a press conference to outline the agenda for the Middle East Railway Conference, due to take place at Dubai International Conference Centre on March 12 and March 13, Al Nuaimi said: “The future is for the private sector. Any successful development will definitely have the private sector as an important partner in the business. And maybe 60, 70 per cent of the legal framework of the law is to comfort the private sector to get in.

“The private sector will not get in unless there is a comfortable regulatory framework that makes business doable.”

Dr Abdullah Salem Al Katheeri, Director-General of the FTA-LM, said developing the GCC rail network was, by definition, a megaproject.

“We are talking about a whole industry coming to the area,” he said. “An industry with a lot of social benefits at the end of the day.

“There is a technical part and there is a legal part. The technical part is almost done — the last meeting was two days ago for the GCC. We are working closely to ensure the alignment, the axle load, all these things are already done.”

Target completion date

Al Nuaimi said the target date for the GCC rail project remained 2021 — the revised date announced last year. Al Katheeri clarified that the end of 2021 was the target completion date for the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with Bahrain and Kuwait a year later.

The 264km first phase of Etihad Rail — the UAE stretch of the Gulf Railway — was already operational, according to Al Nuaimi. It runs between Shah, in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region, and Ruwais, near the border with Saudi Arabia.

“We are in the go now for the second phase that will tie up the existing network with the phase that links with the major seaports of the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

Jamie Hosie, General Manager of Terrapinn Middle East, the events management firm organising Middle East Rail, said he expected visitor numbers to the two-day conference to be around 8,000 this year, up from last year’s 5,000.

He added: “The railway sector in the Middle East and Africa region is expected to grow by more than 3 per cent a year over the next four years as a result of the work on many projects with huge sums. The United Arab Emirates has the second largest group of transport projects in the Middle East, where 15 railways projects worth $13.9 billion (Dh51 billion) are planned and worked out from November 2017.

“Regional governments are moving forward with the application of local railway projects, and faltering projects will re-operate.”