The seven UAE emirates could be connected to an ambitious Arabian railway network extending in a giant loop from the Syrian/Turkish border, through Iraq and along the Arabian Peninsula’s Gulf, Arabian Sea and Red Sea coasts, delegates at the MENA Rail component of the Gulf Traffic 2005 exhibition were told.
In a presentation on the General Overview of the Current & Future of Arab Rail, Murhaf Al Sabouni, General Secretary of the Syria-based Arab Railway Union, revealed that Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah could be main line stops on the 1,860km “third artery” of the proposed rail network between Basra and Muscat. The northern emirates of Ajman, Umm Al Qaiwain and Ras Al Khaimah, along with Fujairah on the country’s east coast would be branch line stations, Al Sabouni revealed. In theory, the creation of an Arabian railway network would enable train journeys from Dubai to Damascus, Beirut or Cairo.
The presentation was based on a study conducted by the Arab Railway Union and the Syrian General Corporation for Railways in association with the Arab Transport Ministers Council of the Arab League. No date was suggested for the implementation of the Arabian Railway network, which would be created by filling in the gaps between existing railways in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The only section of track that currently exists on the network’s Arabian Gulf artery is between Damman and Hufuf.
In addition to the construction of new track over large distances, challenges to face include the differing widths of existing tracks, which vary from 950mm to the standard 1435mm.
In all, the network would comprise 10 arteries and cover 25,000km, said Al Sabouni, stretching from the Syrian/Turkish border in the north to Aden in the south, west through Arabic-speaking North Africa to Mauritania on the Atlantic coast and as far east as the Iraqi border with Iran. In North Africa, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania all have existing railway lines which would be utilised in the network, said Al Sabouni.
While the proposed Arabian railway network seems to hark back to 19th century travel rather than 21st, delegates at the MENA Rail component of Gulf Traffic 2005 heard that rail offers a practical alternative to short and medium-haul flights for both freight and people.
Dr Marc Kaddoura, Chairman and CEO of railway infrastructure specialists VAE Group, which is exhibiting at MENA Rail, told conference delegates that the 3km long freight trains that are familiar sights in the US, South America and Australia “show what railways can do.” Kaddoura added: “They offer an efficient and economic means of transport and in terms of cost saving can rival road transportation.” High speed passenger trains, meanwhile, are faster than a Formula 1 racing car, he said. “In the medium haul range, trains offer a challenge to air traffic,” he added.
Commenting on the MENA Rail component of Gulf Traffic 2005, Davyd Farrell, Transport Project Director, IIR Middle East, organisers of Gulf Traffic, said: “This is the first time we’ve included rail within the Gulf Traffic exhibition and conference and the interest, even from countries without existing rail systems has been high. MENA Rail within Gulf Traffic 2005 is a new and exciting forum to discuss the benefits of rail over air and even road transport.”