The UAE’s Etihad Rail says it will award the first construction contract for the first phase of the $11bn Etihad Railway project in “the next few weeks”.

Richard Bowker, chief executive officer of Etihad Rail, made the announcement during MEED’s Mena Rail Projects 2011 conference.

In July, Etihad Rail held meetings with six groups bidding for the civil engineering contract for the first phase. The civil engineering package is the first construction package to be tendered for the UAE’s rail project (MEED 2:6:11).

The estimated AED2bn ($544m) civil engineering contract includes civil structures, systems, facilities and track work.The first trains are still expected to start running on the line in 2013.

The first phase of the railway runs from the port of Ruwais to the gas fields in Habshan and Shah in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region. The next stage will involve building railway lines across the rest of Abu Dhabi, including Mussafah, the new port at Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi and Jebel Ali. The final stage will see the railway extended to Dubai and the rest of the Northern Emirates.

In April, a US group of Aecom and Parsons won the project management consultancy (PMC) contract for the first phase of the project. The UK’s Atkins will carry out preliminary engineering work for the entire UAE railway.