Why GCC rail is a game-changer
The GCC accounts for 70 per cent of the Middle East's $352 billion rail projects.
Dubai - Apart from easing road congestion caused by freight and passenger traffic, it offer environmental benefits
The UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia are pressing ahead with their domestic rail projects that will offer benefits of health, safety, security and environment for the society and industry.
These projects are part of the $200 billion railway network that will link all GCC countries and is on course to meet its 2021 target.
These domestic networks will be part of an integrated transport system where connections are relatively easy and the spread of the network takes people where they want to go quickly and cheaply relative to the alternative of driving or flying.
In addition to offering state-of-the-art freight services, the UAE's Etihad Rail network will also provide passenger services. Once fully established, the passenger network will connect principal centres of population within the UAE, and subsequently other GCC countries, offering a safer, more efficient, more comfortable and more environmentally friendly mode of transport. Passenger trains are expected to carry up to 16 million passengers per year once the project is fully operational.
According to experts, the domestic rail network, apart from easing road congestion caused by freight and passenger traffic, will offer environmental benefits provided the network is sufficiently wide to optimise people's choices.
For the general public, a key advantage of rail projects is their inter-connectivity with other transport services, such as airports, ports and local transport services including buses and taxis.
For daily commuters, this is especially important as walking in the heat of summer for even a short period can be challenging, according to experts.
Apart from transport benefits, the scale of property development around new rail stations and the scope for investment should not be underestimated, analysts said.
By providing an attractive link between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as well as to the northern emirates, the development of tourism, in particular expanding the range of opportunities available to international tourists and domestic holiday makers, will be possible. Various industries and communities will expand as the railway line connects more areas within the UAE and GCC. The region will experience more economic, social and cultural growth in the form of new job opportunities and industrial diversification.
"For the region, rail promises to be a major game-changer for supply chain and logistics as it will provide the choice, flexibility and cost benefits that the region's manufacturing sectors require to compete in the domestic, regional and global markets. The significant benefits to health, safety, security and environment for the industry and society also should be considered. It will result in more sustainable supply chains and reduce congestion on the roads for generations to come," analysts said.
The present mode of transporting cargo in the UAE and other GCC countries is largely by freight trucks. A move to a freight train will remove 50 trucks from the roads and carry 1,000 tonnes of goods. This also means that there will be fewer road traffic accidents. The direct economic benefits delivered by the Etihad Rail network include freight cost savings, business travel time savings, along with other economic remunerations. These economic benefits will support businesses, commuters and other travellers across the region. The project will also contribute to tourism and the wider UAE economy.
Etihad Rail will support exports as well as increased inward investment. It will also provide employment opportunities and increase incomes of business and property owners, as well as their employees. The development of industrial clusters to support sustainable industrial diversification will be possible by providing freight capacity.
In addition, freight trains will reduce energy costs between 60 and 80 per cent over road transport, reduce road congestion and atmospheric pollutants, and cost up to 30 per cent less than road transport.
Etihad Rail will reduce the overall door-to-door journey time and cost for its passengers. At present, rail projects in the pipeline and in active phases in the GCC are valued at $240 billion, accounting for almost 70 per cent of the Middle East region's $352 billion worth of planned and ongoing projects.
According to organisers of Middle East Rail 2018, the UAE along with Saudi Arabia account for a huge chunk of the $69 billion worth of rail projects under construction in the GCC.
At the end of February, the Saudi Railways Organisation launched the country's North-South Railway, a 1,250km line that would provide a passenger service, effectively revolutionising transportation between Al Qurrayat and Riyadh.
There has also been significant movement in the UAE, with the Abu Dhabi Department of Transport publishing three reports in January 2017. These included Abu Dhabi Metro Rail Project, with Phase 1A comprising 17 stations and 18km of metro rail. Tenders for Phase 1B and for Phase 1C of the city's light rail network project are also in place. These two portions will be tram lines. By 2030, Phase 1 is expected to serve 823,000 passengers a day, organisers of Middle East Rail 2018 said.
Oman Global Logistics Group is looking to set up two rail networks internally for the mining industry. The first will connect Sohar Port and Dank while the second will connect Thumrait, Shuwaimiya and Duqm. As of January 2017, Saudi Arabia had registered the highest rail construction project value of 50 per cent, followed by the UAE (18 per cent), according to a report by Terrapinn Middle East, organiser of Middle East Rail.
According to Jamie Hosie, event director of Middle East Rail 2017, in the next 10 years the region will see a complete reform of mobility across emerging markets.
The planned investments of $30 billion in the UAE's railway networks include that in Abu Dhabi Metro and Light Rail, skyTran Yas Island, the next stages of the Etihad Rail national network, the Dubai Metro extension for Expo 2020 and the new stages of the Al Sufouh Tram, said the report.
The construction timeline for the 2,117km-long $200 billion GCC railway network has been pushed back to 2021 from 2018 in the aftermath of the oil price plunge.
Dr Abdulla S. Al Katheeri, director-general, of the UAE Federal Transport Authority - Land and Maritime, said the 2021 target is a recommendation and there is a big coordination at the ministerial level to achieve this project timeline and to ensure inter-operability and avoid fragmentation. Abu Dhabi is on track with its Dh40 billion Etihad Rail project that will link major industrial zones, cities and ports in the UAE, and will eventually connect with the GCC railway.