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Emirates’ next ambition: lay down railway in desert

Emirates’ next ambition: lay down railway in desert

Gulf Arab states to be linked by rail system by 2017; $11 bln UAE railway seen boosting economic growth; Chinese, European companies to compete over contracts.

January 13, 2011 2:14 by


Union Railway is hoping that the 1,500 kilometre freight and passenger network across the seven-member emirates will start its first complete service in 2017.

The first project is due for completion by 2014, linking the Shah sour gas field of state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) to Ruwais and to the Shah sour gas field, which in early 2013 will begin carrying granulated sulphur from Habshan to Ruwais for export.

Eventually the system will connect the UAE to Saudi Arabia via Ghweifat city in the West and Oman via Al Ain in the East.

Richard Bowker, Union Railway Chief Executive, said interest in bidding for the initial work, such as moving earth and laying track, has been high.

“There have been companies from China, Korea, Australia, Europe,” Bowker said.

Union Railway has already awarded a project management contract to a joint venture of U.S. firm Parsons, and France’s Systra, and a preliminary engineering contract to Parsons Brinckerhoff for the first two phases.

Europe’s top logistics and engineering firms such as French Alstom, German Siemens and Canadian group Bombardier are also expected to submit bids.

“Many projects are under detailed planning or even tender and will become reality in the very near future,” said Vincent Prou, Alstom’s business development director in Dubai.

Freight trains, for heavy goods such as cement, aluminium, or steel, will reach speeds of up to 120 kilometres per hour (kph) and passenger trains up to 200 kph.

Rail development is also being driven, in part, by the need to transport oil and gas in the UAE, the world’s No. 3 oil exporter and No. 5 in gas reserves.

Chinese companies are already building up their experience in laying down networks on the desert peninsula.

China Railway Construction Corp built the $1.8 billion Mecca Metro between Mecca and the holy sites of Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah, Saudi Arabia’s first dual-track light railway, which opened in November to ease congestion during the annual Haj pilgrimage.

“We get strong interest from Chinese companies,” said Abdulaziz al-Hokail, president of the Saudi Railways Organization, adding the Chinese were also active as construction agents in phase one of the Haramain High-Speed Rail and in the North South railway project.

The biggest beneficiaries are likely to be Chinese companies such as China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corp.

“They have essentially current foreign technologies that they will manufacture for export at prices that are well below what any Siemens, Alstom or a Bombardier could offer,” McCahill said. “They take the technology and then just replicate it massively.”

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