Welcome to ‘Sandpiercer,’ 101 cars long…

The UAE is not a nation that shies away from a grand engineering project, if anything, it steams towards them with the thundering purpose of a one-track freight train.

It’s appropriate then, that one of its most ambitious travel projects is the 1200km long Etihad Rail network. Once completed it will stitch the seven emirates together with a passenger and freight transport track, taking the service from the Eastern seaboard of Fujairah, right up to the very edge of Saudi Arabia.

Further down the line (sorry) the project is expected to go beyond the UAE’s borders, linking up to an international platform with other Gulf states. A strategic agreement between Etihad Rail and Saudia Arabia Railways has already been agreed in March of this year.

All aboard the eco train

The Etihad Rail project began in 2009 and the first phase, which covers a stretch of track between Shah and Habshan to the port of Ruwais in the Al Dhafra Region of Abu Dhabi, became operational in 2016.

Since opening, it’s already ferried about 36.9 million tonnes of granulated sulphur. We hear you. That isn’t the most glamourous cargo in the world. We’d love to say it was diamond studded helicopters or fictional Belgian detectives solving elaborate ‘whodunnits’, but the important thing is that these are rail journeys that have translated into removing two million truck trips from the road.

That’s a net reduction in carbon emissions of around 70 to 80 per cent, and a big part of what Etihad Rail is all about. Yes eventually people, including Belgian detectives, will be able to use the service as a convenient method of inter-city transport, but we think you’ll agree the freight wins, are a great start.

Departing platform two

Work on the second phase (which is split into Packages A, B, C and D) began at the beginning of 2021 and is where things get exciting for the other emirates. Some of the stops along the journey will include Abu Dhabi, KIZAD, Khalifa Port, Jebel Ali Port, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah, linking with the existing line at Ruwais, effectively uniting the major industrial ports and trading centres of the country.

Oh the things you’ll see

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 no wildlife or heritage sites are uprooted or harmed in 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 confirm to Tier 3 (EPA) engine emission levels, which is a good thing for everyone.

 

Milestones

The project’s warehousing, installations, operations, and locomotives maintenance hub, Al Faya is now more than 25 per cent complete.

Images: Etihad Rail