Etihad Rail makes transport sense, but needs tweak

UAE project to deliver industrial growth: passenger plan should better

L-R: Philippe Dessoy (Besix), Ulrich Koegler (Booz), Arman Farahmand-Razavi (Ramboll), Robert Hardy (Mott McDonald), Martin Tillman (Buro Happold)
L-R: Philippe Dessoy (Besix), Ulrich Koegler (Booz), Arman Farahmand-Razavi (Ramboll), Robert Hardy (Mott McDonald), Martin Tillman (Buro Happold)

In a lively debate on the prospects of the UAE’s transport infrastructure at a CW conference on the subject, moderator Sachin Kerur, managing Partner at Pinsent Masons, asked what the Etihad Railway project would mean for the Emirate.

Dr. Arman Farahmand-Razavi kicked off proceedings by affirming that the Etihad Rail, “is built on solid traffic,” and that the benefits would add up once it also moves into passenger transport. He added that there is a good platform for industrial rail, noting the capabilities of Kizad’s port.

Ulrich Koegler, partner at Booz & Co, said: “Road has a negative economic impact, so it makes a lot of sense to transfer a lot of traffic and risk to rail. I can’t see Jeddah competing with Jebel Ali, or challenging KIZAD, so you have a very stable system that will be sustainable for a long time.”

He noted that 150-200km of track would be a competitive alternative to the current road system in the UAE.

Martin Tillman, associate director for transport at Buro Happold, interjected: “The use of Etihad Rail for passenger service doesn’t get to the heart of purpose-building transport infrastructure for passengers.”

He noted: “The closer we can bring the infrastructure the better. At the moment planning is car-dominated, but what we need is to give people more and better options for travelling.”

Robert Hardy concurred that “there is definitely a demand for rail between the two big urban conurbations, but tacking it on to what is a freight rail as an add-on doesn’t make sense. If you look at the bridge link Emaar built to Dubai Mall, it’s like a football crowd – there was so much latent demand.”

The panellists then discussed different approaches to encouraging the use of public transport.

Philippe Dessoy, general manager of Six Construct, added: “For the Al Sufouh Tramway in Dubai, the RTA has already  emoved one of the parking lots. To only have bus is not very convenient or environmentally friendly - it is about a complementary system between the tram, the Metro and the buses.

A final point covered by the talk was on whether a wider use of PFI or PPP project finance models by GCC governments would ultimately result in better transport infrastructure outcomes.

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