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Trains, planes, and… other basic infrastructure projects

Trains, planes, and… other basic infrastructure projects

The UAE is getting there when it comes to infrastructure, but it still needs to remember the basics, says Sam Potter.

June 22, 2010 1:42 by

In general, these are promising times for the UAE. And it’s been a particularly encouraging week in terms of transport and logistics.

Early this week, the first flight landed at Al Maktoum International Airport, a milestone in what is one of the UAE’s biggest projects (which is saying something). The airport is part of a Dubai World Central master plan that includes six “interrelated” projects: Al Maktoum International Airport, Dubai Logistics City, DWC Aviation City, DWC Residential City, DWC Commercial City and DWC Golf City.

“When completed, Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum International will be the largest airport in the world with five runways, four terminal buildings and capacity for 160 million passengers and 12 million tonnes of cargo,” says Gulf News.

“This is an important milestone, not only for the airport’s certification process, but as another step towards achieving Dubai’s vision to become the pre-eminent centre for aviation worldwide,” said Shaikh Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and Chairman of Dubai Airports.

Meanwhile also in the papers, reports say that the government is preparing to invite “expressions of interest” for the Union Railway project, which will be completed over the next 7 to 8 years. The project, which will connect all of the UAE by rail, is expected to cost between AED 25 million and AED 30 million, according to reports.

Right now a trade delegation comprising US companies in rail transport, infrastructure and construction, intermodal and bulk shipping, and inland and naval port industries is in the UAE studying the required infrastructure and ways to integrate the railway into the existing transport and shipping grid.

Projects such as these are of massive importance to the UAE. They are vital to the nation’s industry. They bring efficiency, organization, and expanded capability, not to mention employment and further investment. Over time, they will prove far more valuable than any number of fake islands or tall buildings.

The railway project is especially exciting. It is an interesting fact that in the UK, times of the day were approximated until at least 1840 (there could be up to 16 to 20 minutes difference from one town to another). The thing that standardized time – which was the creation of Greenwich meantime – was the train. The developing national rail network wanted to run on a timetable to avoid confusion and reduce the risk of accidents. To do that, time had to be standardized across the country.

Now, while I’m not suggesting the UAE railway could have that kind of impact, it retains most of the other virtues of a railway. It should help reduce transport of bulky goods by road, it is more reliable and faster than other methods of overland transport, it allows for cheaper transporting of goods, it mobilizes the labor force, it is the safest form of transport. In short, it is a key plank of every successful, developed economy.

But amid all of this promise, the government of the UAE needs to remember the basics. Growing the logistical and industrial capabilities of the country will surely contribute to economic growth, but hand in hand with this will come population growth, and people have different needs to business. People need food, they need water, they need shelter. They need drainage, they need power, and they need waste services.

The UAE government should remind itself that if these things don’t keep pace, it won’t matter how big our airport is.

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