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Etihad and GCC rail networks to usher in new vistas for travel, trade in UAE, region, say experts

Etihad and GCC rail networks to usher in new vistas for travel, trade in UAE, region, say experts
1 May 2024 08:05

KHALED AL KHAWALDEH (ABU DHABI)

Global transport and mobility experts have weighed in on the impact of high-speed freight and passenger rail networks in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including the recently expanded Etihad network in the UAE, telling Aletihad that the planned routes will substantially reduce shipping costs, improve connectivity, and result in economic growth for the region.

At the Middle East Rail conference held in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, Dr. Mohammad Mustafa, Mobility and Planning Regional Director at global mobility firm Egis gave a glowing review of the 264km domestic freight network, which is set to be expanded to 900km in the coming years. He said that once complete, and connected to the broader GCC network under construction, the railway would reap substantial economic rewards for the country.

“It will definitely have a good impact on the economy. It will make things smoother. The quantities will be bigger, the movement time is going to be shorter,” Dr. Mustafa told Aletihad.

He said the network would help the region solidify its place as a global logistical hub, particularly if it could manage to reduce shipping times between India and Europe to four days.

“You’re talking about major hubs, you have the Indian Ocean, you have all the ports in Oman, and you have Jebel Ali here. All the movements are going to be easier and don’t forget the bridge, which is coming from India, the future expansion which goes all the way to Europe.”

“If you look at the potential it’s going to be booming, there are a lot of advantages.”

His comments were echoed by Simon Fletcher, the global brand ambassador for the Global Centre of Rail Excellence, who added that the network would also help relieve congestion and improve the environmental sustainability of transporting goods.

“Railways are movers of bulk goods, It doesn’t matter what type of goods it is. It could be containers, it could be grain, it could be oil, it doesn’t matter. It’s bulk. And what that’s doing is it’s hauling huge amounts of the commodity from a port or from a terminal to a port,” he told Aletihad.

“From that point of view, if you didn’t have that service being provided by Etihad Rail in this instance, you would then have another 12,000 lorries on the road. And the roads can already get very congested here. From a carbon emissions point of view that is hugely significant.”

Connecting Passengers

Earlier this year, the Etihad Rail network gave a sneak peek into its soon to be launched passenger services between Abu Dhabi and the Al Dhannah region. When active, the line will be the first of its kind in the UAE, and is proposed to eventually connect to the rest of the Emirates as well as the GCC.

“On the passenger side I think it will be a big ease because you can go from the Northern Emirates all the way to wherever you want, and imagine this Etihad Rail is not just the UAE, you can also go to GCC countries, that’s going to be a big advantage,” he said.

“It’s going to be big competition for the short-haul airlines, because with high speed rail you can actually save time. Especially since with airlines it takes an hour to two hours usually to get to the airport and check in, and frequencies are lower. Also at the same time the cost of your trip is going to be less for sure.”

Fletcher said there was much talk within the industry about possible routes between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, adding that the line would be extremely valuable if it was allowed to be high speed – shortening commute times to 20 minutes. He said this would likely incentivise the public enough to overcome cultural issues around public transport and propensity to prefer cars.

“There is a huge amount of interest in the region, I know that I heard this morning that there is talk about an Abu Dhabi Metro as well. Fantastic, I hope they do it,” he said.

“It will take all of those aeroplanes out of the sky, which will be unpopular to lots of people, but will radically reduce carbon emission, because whatever happens that railway has to be electrified.”

“I’m looking forward to the day when we might be able to get a shipload of goods coming out of Shanghai, round to Qatar into Abu Dhabi and then right up the spine into Europe.”

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