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The railway will redefine logistics and transport in the region, providing a modern, safe, efficient and sustainable network which will connect the seven emirates of the UAE to its neighbouring GCC countries. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: In a vision to bring all the emirates together, Etihad Rail, the developer and operator of the UAE National Rail Network, was launched in 2009. The rail network was instigated to connect all of the UAE’s major ports with distribution centres and will link industrial hubs with urban and suburban communities.

Over the years, Etihad Rail has signed a series of agreements throughout the UAE to secure the rail network’s transport corridors in all the emirates.

Emphasising the importance of developing the Etihad Rail network, Srinath Manda, programme manager for transportation and logistics practice for the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia at Frost and Sullivan's, said that the project can definitely be considered a "landmark" in the UAE's transportation sector with an estimated cost of Dh146.8 billion.

Connecting the GCC

"Once completed, it is expected to transform logistics and transport not only in the UAE but also the wider GCC region," said Manda, adding that Etihad Rail is expected to provide a safe, efficient and sustainable transport network that will link all corners of the country and eventually link the UAE to other countries in the GCC with 1,200 kilometre track.

Meanwhile, the UAE's strategic location in the Gulf earmarks it as the major crossroads for emerging international trade and commerce between East and West.

The network is expected to connect the UAE to Saudi Arabia via Ghweifat in the west and Oman via Al Ain in the east. "The rail network is designed to facilitate rapid surface transport movement in the country for cargo in the initial stages and then the passengers in the later stage," said Manda.

Etihad Rail
Etihad Rail Image Credit: Gulf News

"Thus it is expected to open up new trade corridors for enterprises and travel opportunities for individuals,"Manda says the project would help to connect the places such as the airport, the central business districts and other commercial zones, plus suburban areas.

“Regional trade between Africa, the Middle East and East Asia offers significant potential for the long-term growth of the UAE transport sector, as the country plays a key transport role as a transhipment and re-export hub,” said Dr Nasser Saeedi, chief economist of the Dubai International Financial Centre.

It was announced in September that construction works for Package A of Stage Two, which extends over 139 kilometres, and its connection through Al Ghuwaifat on the border of Saudi Arabia with Stage One was completed. This step brings the company closer to completing the UAE National Railway Network on schedule.

Boost to the GDP

The UAE’s national railway system is expected to bring an increase of Dh3.5 billion to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030 and the project has an economic return rate of 15.5 per cent, said an official at Etihad Rail, the railway’s master developer and operator.

When completed, the Etihad Rail network — which will cater to both freight and passengers — will span a total of 1,200 km across the UAE. The network will also form part of the GCC Railway Network – linking the UAE to Saudi Arabia via Ghweifat in the west and Oman via Al Ain in the east.

Etihad Rail completes excavation for GCC’s longest rail tunnel


In July 2021, Etihad Rail completed the longest tunnel in the Gulf. Running up to 1.8 kilometre, the tunnel is part of Package D on Stage Two of the network’s development.

Package D runs for 145 kilometre from Dubai and Sharjah, through the Al Hajar Mountains, towards Fujairah. This includes the construction of nine tunnels through the mountains at a cumulative length of 6.9 kilometre and additionally includes 54 bridges and 20 animal crossings. The new tunnel excavation achievement is a significant step for the project’s development in 2021.

The route passes through some of the most complex topographical areas in the construction of the network. In total, the completion of the tunnel contributes to ensuring development continues to be on schedule. The UAE National Rail Network is on schedule, with track laying having recently commenced at Saih Shuaib, which is the railhead for track running toward Abu Dhabi and Dubai as part of Stage Two.

The overall track on Stage Two will run from Ghuweifat on the border of Saudi Arabia to the emirate of Fujairah on the UAE’s eastern seaboard.

Etihad Rail’s biggest commercial partnership

In August 2021, Etihad Rail forged a partnership with Western Bainoona Group, an Abu Dhabi based road construction company. It will deliver rail freight services to the Group for their construction materials from Western Bainoona Group's facilities in Fujairah to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

This is one of Etihad Rail’s largest commercial deals for Stage Two of the rail project. As much as 4.5 million tonnes of Western Bainoona Group’s needs will be transported annually on 643 trains from facilities in Fujairah to logistics hubs in the Industrial City of Abu Dhabi (ICAD) and Dubai Industrial City.

“The network will enhance the capacity of companies operating across the UAE,” said Mohammed Khalfan Al Hameli, Chairman of Western Bainoona Group. “Companies can develop their business by redirecting assets and reducing transportation costs, efficiently utilising their time and resources to become active players in the development of the UAE.”

The length of each train will be around one kilometre. Etihad Rail is allocating 70 wagons for each train, with an approximate capacity of 7,000 tonnes per trip. The partnership will reduce road traffic by 120,000 truck trips annually.

Mohamed Al Marzooqi, Executive Director of Rail Relations Sector at Etihad Rail said, “Etihad Rail delivers cost-effective and time-efficient transport solutions, reducing road traffic in the UAE. In doing so, we protect the environment by reducing carbon emissions. Additionally, we deliver significant benefits for the logistics, infrastructure, and transport sectors across the UAE,”