The UAE’s Etihad Rail Project is set to revolutionize travel in the region with its passenger and freight services, linking 11 cities and towns around the country.
Although freight trains began operating on the rail network in February 2023, passenger services are expected to be available at a larger scale by 2030, with an estimated 36.5 million passengers expected to use the service.
Train passenger services will enable users to plan their journeys between the emirates and cities more efficiently, significantly decreasing travel time.
The train can also travel at speeds exceeding 200 km/h, making it a first-class way to travel. The network will extend from Al Sila to Fujairah, serving 11 cities and towns, and communities around the network, including Ruwais, Al Mirfa, Fujairah, Sharjah, and Al Dhaid.
Etihad Rail has a promising future, as it is set to create economic opportunities valued at around Dh 200 billion. It is estimated that the rail service will reduce carbon emissions worth 21 billion, while road maintenance savings of Dh 8 billion have been forecast.
By being environment-friendly, providing provisions for minimal wildlife and heritage disruption, avoiding crossing breedings sites, using noise control tech to limit sound levels, etc., Etihad Rail has received key partnerships with the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) and the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD).
Here are answers to 10 of the most commonly posed questions about the train that will link the seven emirates of the UAE;
So will it be for passengers or just for cargo?
There are two elements to the Etihad Rail Project — the rail network has been designed to support both freight and passenger services. There’s the massive commercial-industrial component, one that has in fact already begun with the transport of granulated sulphur in the west of Abu Dhabi.
But there will also be a passenger transit system, a glorious ‘Sandpiercer’ linking 11 cities in the UAE, with oil painting backdrops of untamable geography slipping past the panoramic windows. And then… beyond. Into the GCC.
Are we nearly there yet?
Yes and no. On February 23, 2023, in the company of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, vice president, and prime minister of the UAE, the National Rail Network officially began operations for freight trains.
When can we expect to sit on board?
When will passengers be able to ride on Etihad Rail? We know you’re keen for the cries of “tickets please” but they’re not quite due at the platform yet. The only rigid timeline that’s been put down officially is that the expectation is the service will be carrying an estimated “36.5 million passengers by 2030”, announced at a special ‘Projects of the 50’ event held at Expo2020 in December 2021. And that progress for this target is, rather appropriately ‘on track’. We have been treated to a glimpse of what the trains will look like though. For the UAE’s National Day in 2022, a prototype was unveiled, and since then several high-profile visits have been made to the functioning mock-up, including some royal visitors.
How quickly will it get me from Dubai to Abu Dhabi (or vice versa)?
Train passenger services will enable users to plan their journeys between the emirates and cities more efficiently, significantly decreasing the travel time:
Traveling from Abu Dhabi to Dubai will take up to 50 minutes
Traveling from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah will take 100 minutes
Traveling from Dubai to Fujairah will take 50 minutes.
Traveling from Abu Dhabi To Ruwais will take 70 minutes
Which cities will it link?
The 1,200 km network will extend from Al Sila to Fujairah, Serving 11 cities, towns, and communities around the network, including Ruwais, Al Mirfa, Fujairah, Sharjah, Al Dhaid, Abu Dhabi.
Is it just the UAE?
No sir. Not at all. In February 2023, Oman Rail and Etihad Rail struck an accord, partnering with Mubadala and committing to a 303km stretch of track that will unite the two GCC nations by rail, direct from Sohar in Oman to the city of Abu Dhabi (in 100 minutes) and beyond.
There has also been talk of potentially connecting the UAE rail services with Saudi Arabia. Keep your eyes peeled for more updates on that.
How fast will it travel?
The train has been reported to top out at more than 200km/h. That’s “late for an appointment” Nissan Patrol speeds.
How environment-friendly is it?
There’s a section of the track between Shah and Habshan,, and the port of Ruwais in the Al Dhafra Region of Abu Dhabi, that’s already in use for the transport of sulphur. Glamorous? Not really. Perfumed by the aroma of expired egg cress sandwiches? Almost certainly. But ferrying this vital industrial resource by rail rather than road has already saved two million truck trips.
And what about the desert wildlife?
Etihad Rail has key partnerships with the Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) and the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) to help ensure minimal wildlife and heritage disruption occurs from the track’s construction.
The Al Maha Forest area for example is home to a number of important species in the UAE, including the Arabian oryx, antelopes, and bustard birds. Located in Abu Dhabi, the forest stretches over 5.5km alongside the Package B route and will hopefully afford some incredible animal spotting opportunities along the way.
Etihad Rail avoids crossing breedings sites; it uses noise control tech to limit sound levels, and has committed to only using the horn in emergencies; there’s a vegetation replanting scheme; the track is lined with special fencing and has made provision for 10 camel underpasses, 22 gazelle underpasses and 78 reptile underpasses so far; the locomotives also conform to Tier 3 (EPA) engine emission levels, which is a good thing for everyone.
What are the major economic benefits?
You hear a lot of chatter about numbers in mega projects. They’re all projections of course, but they’re attained through first principle science. Some of the most exciting statistics to come out of the Etihad Rail station are that it will create ‘economic opportunities’ to the value of around Dh 200 billion; the estimated benefits of reducing carbon emissions amount to 21 billion and road maintenance savings of Dh 8 billion have been forecast; then, of course, there’s the extra tourism business valued at a conservative Dh 23 billion over the next 50 years; and the public spending benefits on the UAE economy will reach Dh 23 billion.
What is Etihad Rail – and where does it go?
Etihad Rail was first established in 2009 and stage one of the project became operational in 2016.
Phase one is complete. Since 2016, two tracks spanning 264 kilometres have been in operation – with trains transporting granulated sulphur from gasfields in Shah and Habshan to an export point in Ruwais.
Every day, two trains run across the country, capable of carrying up to 22,000 tonnes of sulphur. Each train can pull up to 110 wagons.
On November 21, Etihad Rail said it had completed excavation work on nine tunnels over nearly seven kilometres, which involved blasting through sections of the Hajar mountain range on the east coast.
Phase two links the UAE and Saudi Arabia from Fujairah Port to Ghuwaifat, through Mussaffah, Khalifa Port and Jebel Ali Port with more than 600 kilometres of additional track. The two phases together will support more than 9,000 jobs, many of them for Emiratis.
Trains and Wagons
Seven locomotives are in operation along the tracks, which run through rural areas in Abu Dhabi, delivering sulphur to clients.
Weighing 30 tonnes each unladen, and 130 tonnes loaded, the wagons are fully equipped with extended safety features, including electronically controlled pneumatic brakes and derailment protection.
For stage two of the project, the train fleet will increase to 45 locomotives and connect the emirates via Abu Dhabi, Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi, Khalifa Port, Jebel Ali Port, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah.
Last year, the first batch of Emirati students graduated with diplomas in railways specialities, through a programme introduced by Etihad Rail. Maithaa Al Remeithi also became the first female Emirati train controller in the country, at the age of 29.
One freight train replaces hundreds of lorries
Rail travel scores highly as far as its sustainability goes and that has to be celebrated.
Once fully operational, the fleet of trains and wagons running on the Etihad Rail network will replace 5,600 lorry trips per day. A fully loaded train also emits up to 80 per cent less carbon dioxide than lorries transporting the same tonnage.