A view of Etihad rail in the area of Habshan in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi during the Rail Alignment Trail Run. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News archives

Duba: The government has released Dh700 million as an initial allotment to start construction on the second phase of the Etihad Rail project, Minister of Public Works Abdullah Bel Haif Al Nuaimi said.

Al Nuaimi made the announcement as he briefed the press on Wednesday on the forthcoming MENA Rail Conference and Exhibition, which is scheduled to be held in Dubai on March 17-18. He said the contract for phase 2 of the Etihad Rail project has been awarded.

“Etihad Rail project is on track and it is moving as per schedule. The government is funding phase two of the project because this has immense strategic value and we will make sure the project is delivered on time,” said Al Nuaimi.

The 628-kilometre-long Phase Two connects the 264-kilometre-long Phase One to Musaffah and Khalifa Port in Abu Dhabi, Jebel Ali in Dubai and to the Saudi and Omani borders. Phase One, which was completed at a cost of Dh4.7 billion, runs between Shah and Habshan to Ruwais in Abu Dhabi.

The federal rail network is estimated to cost around Dh40 billion, but the breakdown of expenditure in Phase Two was not immediately available.

The 1,200-km Etihad Rail line will link major industrial zones, cities and ports, connecting all the emirates of the UAE, and will eventually connect with the GCC railway.

However, he hinted that there could be some delays in the completion of the GCC Rail link which is scheduled to be ready by 2018.

“When the project was first announced in 2008 it was scheduled to be ready by 2018. From our side we are ready and Saudi officials have also confirmed that they are ready but we don’t have similar confirmations from other GCC countries. A GCC transport ministers’ meeting is scheduled in November and we will only have a clear picture then,” he said.

The 2,177-km-long GCC rail network will link all six GCC states by rail for the first time, providing an alternative to air or sea travel for both goods and passengers in the region, and was initially scheduled to be fully operational in 2018.

According to Al Nuaimi, a realistic date for full operation of the GCC Rail could be 2020.

“We are all working towards a common goal. All the parties have agreed on the technology to be used and other specifications. Each country will link its rail line as and when it is ready and the network will be operated in a unified system,” he said.

Delving into the reasons for possible delays, he hinted that sinking oil prices could be one of the issues.

“Lower oil prices are impacting everyone but it won’t be a hindrance in the completion of such a vital project. It might cause a slight delay but it is highly unlikely that it will have any adverse impact on the project,” said Al Nuaimi.

Setting the ground for rail operations, the Ministry of Public Works is currently formulating federal rail regulations.

“A couple of months ago we got an approval from the cabinet to work on the law and by the end of this year, we hope the new regulations will be ratified by the government,” he informed.

They will cover various aspects of rail operations as well as dealing with land acquisition and compensation.

Speaking about the MENA Rail Conference, he said the conference, which is being organised jointly by the UAE Federal Transport Authority and the ministry, will see the launch of several rail projects, including Metro, high speed rail and federal rail networks cross the region.

To be held at Dubai World Trade Centre, the event will see the participation of around 6,000 delegates and 162 presenters from 72 countries.