UAE federal rail company Union Railway has set out a clear timeline for the development of its $11bn union-wide railway network, which will eventually link the UAE with the rest of the GCC.

At a meeting in Abu Dhabi on 24 March, the company told international engineering firms that it will start the tendering process for construction contracts on the first phase of project in the second quarter of the year. Companies will be prequalified to bid to on the deals by September.

The first phase of the railway involves the construction of a 264-kilometre line connecting the Shah gas field in the south of the emirate with oil and gas processing and distribution facilities at the port of Ruwais in the north. The route will be for freight transport initially although Union Railway is also planning passenger services.

The network will eventually include rail lines extending from Abu Dhabi’s Western region through the UAE’s other emirates: Dubai, Sharjah, Umm al-Quwain, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah and Ajman.

The 1,500-kilometre railway will connect the UAE to Saudi Arabia from Ghweifat city in the west and will connect to Oman through Al Ain in the east and will form part of the wider 2,177-kilometre GCC railway.

The first phase of the Shah-Ruwais railway will be broken down into two sections: one linking the Shah field with gas processing and distribution facilities at Habshan in the north; and a second between Habshan and the port of Ruwais. It will also run through through Mezaira’a, Madinat Zayed, Tarif and Al Mirfa.

“They are going to use this as the prototype that will then be used for most of the other rail projects that will come on the UAE network,” one contractor who attended the Abu Dhabi meeting tells MEED. “As it is not passenger line, it is not driven by demand, it is a freight line and is driven by the petrochemicals industry.”

Construction deals will be divided into two or three civil packages, one or two track packages and one control systems package.

Civil works for the Ruwais-Habshan section of the line will begin towards the end of 2010 and are scheduled to finish in mid-2012. Civil works on the Habshan-Shah section of the line are expected to begin in the first half of 2011 and are due to be completed by the second half of 2013.

Construction of the track running from Ruwais to Habshan is scheduled to begin the early part of 2011 and should be finished in the first quarter of 2013.

Construction on the track between Habshan and Shah will start in the second half of 2011 and is scheduled for completion in mid-2014. Control systems will be integrated into the line over a three-year period between mid-2011 and mid-2014.

Rolling stock for the Shah-Ruwais railway will be made up of between seven and 10 diesel locomotives and 250 covered hopper wagons, which are generally used to transport freight such as coal, ore and grain. Procurement will start in early 2011 with testing and trial runs to begin the latter part of 2014.

When the entire UAE network is complete, Union Railway expects a full fleet of more than 100 locomotives and 5,000 freight wagons.

The Shah-Habshan-Ruwais railway will be used to transport 7 million tonnes a year of granulated sulphur from the Shah field to Habshan and Ruwais as part of the joint venture $10bn development of the sour, or sulphur-rich Shah gas field (see page 16).

State energy giant Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and the US’ ConocoPhillips are the partners behind the scheme. They have been studying two options for sulphur transportation: the railway and a technically complex liquid sulphur pipeline. They are yet to announce a decision, leading to confusion among oil and gas construction contractors.

“It looks like they are definitely going ahead with the railway line rather than the pipeline now, if Union Railway is tendering this deal,” says the business development manager of one firm bidding on contracts for the scheme.  

US engineering firm Bechtel, which has already been working as an adviser on the rail project, is the favourite to win the project management consultancy (PMC) contract to oversee the construction of the Union Railway network, sources close to the project have confirmed to MEED (MEED 18:3:10). Bechtel is also bidding on two PMC deals to oversee engineering works on the Adnoc/Conoco scheme and is being considered for the management consultancy contract for the entire GCC scheme.