Etihad Rail, United Arab Emirates

One of the largest infrastructure projects in the UAE, Eithad Rail is a comprehensive railway network connecting the country and the region.

Etihad Rail - train driving between gorgeous orange sand dunes

The United Arab Emirates is positioning itself to meet the challenges of the future by embarking on landmark infrastructure projects that support its economy and the wellbeing of its citizens and residents. The UAE Vision 2021 provides the mission and vision that guides the Government’s initiatives towards securing a future for its people and the region.

Etihad Rail is one of the largest infrastructure projects in the UAE. At its core, the project consists of a comprehensive railway network. The railway track extends from the Saudi Arabian border through the entire length of the UAE to Fujairah on the Indian Ocean coast. The network has been designed for freight and passenger services bringing communities and resources together by increasing connectivity throughout the region.

Etihad Rail underlines the importance of a vision that can unite all delivery parties around the most important outcomes.

As a catalyst for economic growth and sustained social development, the network will link the principal centers of population and industry of the UAE and form a vital part of the planned railway network across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It offers a range of cutting-edge benefits: being faster, safer, more reliable, and offers more environmentally sustainable services than alternative modes of transport. The network will encourage alternative and new industries by creating a new transport system that complements the existing infrastructure and contributes to economic sustainability.

  • 1.2 k

    kilometers - the length of the national rail network when completed

  • 1.1 M

    concrete sleepers to be laid across Stage 2

  • 174

    Ghaf trees transplanted over five months

  • 70- 80 %

    less carbon emissions

“This has been one of the largest, fastest and most challenging railway projects in the world. We are proud to have been working with this visionary and ambitious client and to have been able to help this client achieve so much in such a short time.”

Peter Shipley

Jacobs Project Director

Etihad Rail - carriages freight for miles

Strengthening Networks across the GCC

Etihad Rail represents a key component of the planned GCC railway network, which will run from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia border via the cities of the Arabian Gulf Coast to the Northern Emirates and the Emirates east coast and the Indian Ocean. As a key feature of the GCC railway network, Etihad Rail will enhance the connectivity and commercial activities of the GCC countries.

Etihad Rail - train coming round the bend between orange sand dunes

Innovation for a Sustainable Future

Jacobs is leading the design and implementation stages of the project, providing engineering consultancy and construction supervision services for Etihad Rail, including technical support for building the freight railway from the Saudi Arabian border through each Emirate in the UAE. We brought in-depth expertise of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) standards to the GCC railway network to work on the Etihad Rail project. By adhering to AAR standards, the UAE network has set a new benchmark for railways in the Middle East.

A major challenge in the development of the railway is the UAE’s most ubiquitous natural feature – sand. We assessed that 40 to 80% of the Stage Two network requires crucial protection from windblown sand – for the safety of the network, to avoid service disruption to users, and to maintain the rail track and facilities cost effectively.

We leveraged our experience from rail projects in the terrains of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Australia in the preliminary design, with emphasis on early planning, key to avoiding high-cost corrections or changes when construction is underway later.

Responding to the client’s requirements for fast track delivery of the completed works we worked with Etihad Rail to complete the Preliminary Engineering Design, secure the necessary stakeholder approvals and secure design build contractors for 605 km of new railway within an incredible nine months of starting.

As part of the value engineering work, we evaluated the entire network together with the freight forecasts. We worked with our client to identify sections of the network that could be optimized as single tracks rather than double tracks, which created further savings, while also providing the opportunity for future network expansion as the freight volumes develop.

“This has been one of the largest, fastest and most challenging railway projects in the world. We are proud to have been working with this visionary and ambitious client and to have been able to help achieve so much in such a short time,” said Jacobs Project Director Peter Shipley. “We have now secured all the main works contracts necessary to complete this huge and complex project and are in full scale delivery across the Emirates spanning from the Saudi border to the Indian Ocean.

“We have established an industry-leading health and safety performance and are set to deliver the completed works within an amazingly short time.” he adds.

Etihad Rail - worker walking towards long train

Environmental Considerations

Throughout the project, we always look at ways we can make a positive environmental difference. Drawing on our global rail experience, for example, we devised a way to minimize tunneling required through the mountains which reduced environmental impact, as well as cost and construction time.

Elsewhere the network passes through an ecologically sensitive area in Sharjah, home to the endangered Wonder Gecko. Our environmental specialists collaborated with our design team to minimize the environmental impact and safeguard the natural home of these fascinating creatures.

The Ghaf Tree is the national tree of the UAE and a protected species, with much cultural, environmental and traditional significance. It is a homage to the Bedouin lifestyle – a source of nourishment to people, animals, and insects in a region with scarce natural resources. Its leaves are renowned for their medicinal properties.

We ensured that strict measures were taken for any relocation efforts once the Etihad Rail corridor began in January 2020. We conducted preclearance ecological surveys such as verifying bird breeding activities before conducting relocation. We followed an ordered tree care process for relocation and an 11-strong team transplanted 174 trees over five months.