A joint venture of US firms Aecom and Parsons has emerged as the frontrunner for the project management contract (PMC) for the second phase of the UAE’s national railway project.

The Abu Dhabi-based railway developer and operator Etihad Rail is due to officially award the contract in the first quarter of 2014.

The American partnership was competing against fellow shortlisted US companies Fluor and Bechtel for the deal, and had previously won the PMC contract for phase 1 of the rail project.

Phase 1 of the network links the gasfields in Habshan and Shah to the port of Ruwais. Construction is already under way with the first part of the line to open by the end of the year.

Phase 2 of the project will connect the major ports and cities in the UAE, including Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Port and Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port.

The market is still waiting for news on the award of the construction contracts for phase 2.

Speaking at MEED’s Rail & Metro Summit in Abu Dhabi at the end of October, Abdulrahman al-Janahi, senior development manager at Etihad Rail, said the technical evaluation of the construction contract bids had been completed and the phase was “almost ready to go”.

Al-Janahi also said engineering and design work is starting on phase 3 of the project, which will cover a track connecting the network to the northern emirates.

Once completed, the railway will be 1,200 kilometres in length and form part of the GCC Railway Network.