What’s On speaks exclusively to the team behind the project…

The UAE is no stranger to ambitious engineering projects, but few tug on the heartstrings in quite the same way as the Etihad Rail development. A train line cutting through dramatic desertscape, carrying passengers and cargo, through 11 cities across the seven emirates of the UAE.

And the progress of the project seems to be very much (sorry) on track — with the recent announcement that lines in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are now connected.

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Last week Etihad Rail shared some spectacular drone footage of one of their locomotives, powering along the coastal Al Mirfa stretch of the line, giving us a little taste of the sorts of panoramic vistas passengers can expect when the service is eventually open. And we might not have to wait too long before we get to travel on this totemic ‘Sandpiercer’.

To get the very latest on timelines and essential need-to-know information on the train, What’s On spoke to Ahmed Al Musawa, Executive Director of Passenger Services Sector at Etihad Rail. Here’s what he had to say:

What’s On: How much time will passengers take to travel between emirates?

Ahmed Al Musawa: Train passenger services will enable users to plan their journeys between the emirates and cities more efficiently, significantly decreasing the travel time:

  • Traveling from Abu Dhabi to Dubai will take up to 50 minutes
  • Traveling from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah will take 100 minutes
  • Traveling from Dubai to Fujairah will take 50 minutes.
  • Traveling from Abu Dhabi To Ruwais will take 70 minutes

WO: Tell us about the customers’ journey on the passenger trains.

AAM: We are working on providing passengers with a seamless, integrated, and time-saving experience throughout their entire journey, starting from booking their travel until reaching their final destination.

Station experience

  • Etihad Rail’s passenger stations will fit into the urban surroundings and serve as nodes, revolutionizing the communities around them.
  • The stations are designed to enhance the passenger experience through integration with key transport access modes and providing conformable waiting areas prior to the schedule departure for all rail users.
  • Passenger rail stations will include shops, customer service centres, restaurants, luggage deposit services, pre-paid cards, and more.

Journey experience

  • The passengers’ journey will be comfortable and convenient for everyone. Etihad rail is committed to providing an integrated travel solution, using the latest technologies available.
  • The trains will be equipped with modern amenities (infotainment systems, charging stations… etc.), food and beverages, and ample legroom. Passenger trains will also be equipped with an advanced air-conditioning system.
  • Our trains will offer a variety of seating segments to select whether they would like to travel on first-class, business-class, or economy.

WO: How many passengers can the trains carry? What will be the average speed?

AAM: The passenger trains will have an initial operating speed of 200 km/h, and a seating capacity of around 400 passengers per train. State-of-the-art features on the trains include:

  • Electronically controlled pneumatic brakes
  • European ETCS Level 2 Signalling system
  • Structural safety certification
  • High temperature tolerance
  • Fire suppression system

WO: Can you tell us about the route and which stops/communities the railway will serve?

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AAM: The network will extend from Al Sila to Fujairah, Serving 11 cities, towns and communities around the network, including: Ruwais, Al Mirfa, Fujairah, Sharjah, Al Dhaid, Abu Dhabi.

WO: What will the stations look like?

  • AAM: The stations will be a place where passengers go through “a memorable experience”. Each one will speak to the regional traditions and activities. We want every station to remind passengers of the local traditions of its city, and more importantly to reflect the values of its people.
  • We intend to do all this using a design language that expresses movement, safety using state of the art equipment and design-safety standards, speed through streamlined navigation strategy, confidence using best and highest global standards, and rekindles Etihad Rail’s core values of being a connector and unifier of all the seven emirates and beyond in the region.

WO: What will the carriages look like?

  • AAM: The colour palette blended with splendid interior design systems have come together to resemble effortless comfort that pay homage to the nature of our brand whilst continuing the nation’s standards as a pioneer of “best in class” passenger carriages globally as seen in other mobility solutions born out of the Emirates.
  • Carriages will be curated in line with international best standards, featuring a predominately darker toned colour palette, which features striking soft curved lines, embedded within larger block shapes and flat surface areas to create texture and depth. Windows are ergonomically placed to allow for an optimal intake of natural light alongside the ability to utilise blinds to lower sunlight into the cabins. And there are inbuilt provisions for electronics and home comforts to be engorged when onboard our trains.

WO: Other than the spectacular desert stretches. What scenic highlights will the train pass through?

  • AAM: Passengers will get to see the most beautiful parts of the country, ranging from city views, mountains, highways and deserts, as well as the country’s unique buildings and the people’s movements.

But when can we expect to be travelling on Etihad Rail?

There is no official completion date for the project yet although during a special ‘Projects of the 50’ event held at Expo2020 in December 2021, there were some indicators of intended timeline. It was confirmed that the Rail Passenger Services will be the second phase of the project (after freight) and is expected to carry more than 36.5 million passengers annually, by 2030.

Images: Etihad Rail