Abu Dhabi’s Union Rail Company is planning to build a 264-kilometre-long freight railway that Adnoc will use to transport granulated sulphur from its oil and gas fields in the Western region to its export facility at Ruwais on the coast.

“Today we are in an advanced stage of discussions with Adnoc for a line that will transport 7 million tones a year of granulated sulphur from Shah to Habshan to Ruwais. This important strategic initiative will help develop oil and gas and petrochemicals in the region,” said Hussein al-Nowais, chairman, Union Railway Company, on the sidelines of the MEED Middle East Rail Projects Conference on 12 October.

The Union Rail Company will fast-track the construction of the line, and Al-Nowais expects Adnoc to start using the railway in 2014.

The AED30bn ($8.1bn) Union Railway will have a total length of about 1,400km, capable of transporting passengers and cargo. Once complete in five to seven years, it will transport three million containers a year, and 30 million tonnes of bulk.

The authorities have already fixed the route for the rail network in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The authorities in Dubai and the rest of the Northern Emirates are now deciding on the route for the rest of the country’s network.

Passenger trains will travel at 160-200 kilometres an hour (km/h) and freight trains will move at 80-100 km/h.

“There might be sections of the route that need faster modes of transport, but that is still being studied,” says Al-Nowais.

Consultants are now working on two studies for the project. US-based Wilbur Smith is working on the traffic study that will determine how much freight and how many passengers will use the railway.

UK-based Hyder Consulting is working on the environmental impact study. Germany’s Deutsche Bahn has already prepared a feasibility study for the rail network.

US-based Bechtel Corporation is the programme manager for the initial stages of the project. By the end of 2009, the Union Rail Company will appoint a programme manager for the remainder of the design work and for construction of the railway.

The company will finalise its procurement strategy and the breakdown of the construction packages for the project only once a programme manager is in place.

“We will begin to award contracts at the start of 2010,” says Al-Nowais.