US engineering giant Bechtel is the favourite to win the project management consultancy (PMC) deal to oversee the construction of the first phase of Abu Dhabi state-owned Union Railway’s UAE-wide railway network development, sources close to the project tell MEED.

The first phase of the $11bn scheme involves the construction of a 270-kilometre freight line that will connect oil and gas processing and distribution facilities at Ruwais in the north with the Shah gas field in the south of the emirate.

Sources close the scheme tell MEED that Bechtel, which has already been working as an advisor on the project, is the favourite to win the main deal to oversee the engineering, procurement and construction contractors who build this part of the railway, and may be appointed the PMC contractor for the entire network.

The US engineering firm is also bidding on two PMC deals to oversee the construction of gas and sulphur production, processing and distribution facilities across the emirate as part of $10bn joint venture Shah gas project being developed by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and the US’ ConocoPhillips.

Companies will also be invited to prequalify for construction deals on the rail project in the third quarter of the year, Richard Bowker, chief executive of Union Railway, tells MEED. The first construction contract will be awarded by the end of the year with construction scheduled to begin in 2011. The entire railway network is expected to be completed by 2017.

“We have not disclosed what the next contract will be but the plan is to build the entire network over the next seven to eight years so people will not have to wait too long,” says Bowker.

The 1,500km network will eventually include a freight and passenger rail line extending from Abu Dhabi’s Western region through the other emirates of Dubai, Sharjah, Umm al-Quwain, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah and Ajman. The railway will also link up with the GCC railway network.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have all started implementing their own domestic rail projects, which will form part of the larger GCC rail network.

The GCC Secretariat is considering forming a single committee to regulate the entire GCC railway network when it is complete.