Middle East Rail 2018 discusses GCC Railway Network, technology trends, and conveys a general attitude of positivity for the global rail industry
Highlights from Middle East Rail 2018
The 12th edition of Middle East Rail saw over 290 regional and international railway operators, suppliers, and contractors come together to discuss the latest industry trends and showcase their best solutions and innovations. The exhibition took place between March 12 – 13, 2018, at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre.
The event was held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Presidential Affairs, UAE, in partnership with the Ministry of Infrastructure Development and the Federal Transport Authority – Land and Maritime.
During his keynote speech, Sheikh Mansour said that the UAE had established itself as a global player in the transport infrastructure sector – a sector that plays an important role in any nation’s progress. He also expressed his pleasure at the growth in the number of participants at this year’s event, as well as the keen interest shown by key decision-makers in the railway industry.
He then highlighted the fact that the UAE government had developed a clear vision, as well as a carefully-planned strategy, to play a leadership role in the field of rail transport infrastructure. This will be achieved through regional and international collaborations, developing and re-shaping policies, and enacting laws to promote efficiency as well as safety in this vital sector, he said.
The previous edition of Middle East Rail saw key focus on the financing options for GCC Railway, a $200bn potential megaproject connecting the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. Approved by the states in 2009, the original completion date for the rail network was pledged as 2018; Saudi Arabia was the only country at the moment to have any rail infrastructure. The deadline was later pushed to 2021. UAE completed the 264km stage one of its Etihad Rail network, connecting the Shah-habshan-ruwais route, in 2014.
However, by 2016, work had slowed down or come to a complete halt in Oman, UAE, and Qatar. In January 2016, Etihad Rail officially announced that it had suspended tendering for phase two of the national rail network. This stage involved the construction of a 628km-line from Ghweifat on the Saudi border to the Omani frontier near Al Ain, with links to the UAE’S three principal ports—khalifa, Jebel Ali, and Mussafah.
UAE’S Minister for Infrastructure Development Dr Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, commented on the halting of phase two, saying that it “was logical because you simply cannot build your part and wait for others to start”.
In February 2018, the UAE Cabinet approved a new Federal Railway Law that provides a regulatory framework for future development of railways. The new law is expected to pave the way for private sector participation in railway projects in the emirates. Both UAE and Oman are currently focusing on developing their internal rail networks.
Dr Abdullah Salem al-kathiri, director general of the Federal Authority for Transport Land and Marine announced at a press conference at the Middle East Rail 2018 that all six GCC countries are moving forward with national rail plans which include links to neighbouring states.
In attendance at the 2018 show were a number of key exhibitors, including Indian Railways (who showcased $140bn worth of current and future rail projects that the Indian government is building to upgrade country’s urban transportation network), Serco, Alstom, Greenbrier Companies, Siemens, CREC, CRRC, AECOM, Progress Rail, and Department for International Trade UK.
The provider of the Dubai Tram and the leader of the Expolink consortium for Route 2020 project of the Red Line extension of Dubai Metro, Alstom, highlighted eight new technologies with the power to transform mobility in the Middle East now – or in the very near future.
Among the solutions Alstom presented on its booth, are Alstom’s Urban Integrated solutions; Citadis Range; Mastria, the orchestration of all public transport modes from rail to road; Ecodesign: sustainability in mobility from manufacturing to recycling; Aptis: the premium passenger experience inspired from the tram, Healthhub and more.
Harj Dhaliwal, managing director Middle East & India - Hyperloop One, discussed the fundamentals of the hyperloop technology, the ultra-high-speed ground transportation system proposed in 2013 by Elon Musk. The UAE Innovation Month in February 2018 saw the first concept model of the Hyperloop commuter pod.
“The core components of hyperloop technology have been around for a long time, nearly five or six decades. What we’re doing now is bringing together the various components like vacuum, levitation, propulsion, altogether, enabling us to create a brand-new form of transport for the 21st century.”
Hyperloop technology, explains Dhaliwal, is a cross-over of different sectors. It learns not just from the rail industry, but also from aerospace, space, and high-speed rail, bringing it all together in a new, consolidated form of transport, aimed at changing the way transport is perceived forever. During the unveiling of the Hyperloop’s concept model in Dubai, Abdul Reda Abu Al Hassan, executive director of Rail Planning and Project Development at RTA, said the project is expected to be operational within the next five years. People were especially excited by the fact that travel time between Dubai and Abu Dhabi could potentially be cut down to 12 minutes.
“Why I really enjoy hyperloop is because everybody is so excited by it,” remarks Dhaliwal. “Everybody wants it. I’ve never worked in an organisation where the public are willing you
I have never seen so much support for a technology in this sector.” Harj Dhaliwal, Hyperloop One
to get a project done so fast—and this is coming from someone who’s worked in transportation all his life. Most projects tend to have protesters, asking us to get rid of it. I have never seen so much support for a technology in this sector.”
Dhaliwal claims it is difficult to put a date on when the hyperloop will precisely be open to the masses, but he believes in seven years from now, from the proof of concept (POC) mode, a concept facility will be up and running somewhere in the world—perhaps even in Dubai.
Early this year, Virgin Hyperloop One founder Richard Branson unveiled plans to implement a hyperloop system in India, connecting Pune and Mumbai, with a goal of cutting down the travel time between the two cities to 25 minutes. “India is an amazing story for us. We’ve established our base here in the Middle East, and we’ll continue to push our growth here. But we’re also keenly looking at other areas in the world, and India is a fantastic opportunity area, which we really started to focus on in Q3-Q4 of 2017. We carried out our global challenge event, and built off that.
“In July-august onwards, we started seriously engaging with governments and state governments. We started to talk to those states that were prominent in our global challenge event. We basically said—where would you want the hyperloop? So via that competition, we were able to narrow it down to where we should focus our resources.
Dr Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, Minister for Infrastructure Development