In late November, the owner of a planned $11-billion freight and passenger rail complex across the United Arab Emirates announced major design and management awards to three international firms.

Owner Terminates Big Abu Dhabi Rail Contracts
Rail line would link Emirates to other Gulf states.

Abu Dhabi-based Union Railway Co. has now quietly dismissed the winners without disclosing the reasons, according to executives involved in the project.

Union Railway terminated in early January a joint venture of Parsons Corp., Pasadena, Calif., and Paris-based SYSTRA, which was awarded the project’s program management contract in November. Also terminated was Parsons Brinckerhoff, New York City, which won the preliminary engineering contract for the project’s first two stages. The values of the contracts were not disclosed. Click here for previous project story.

Neither Union Railway CEO Richard Bowker or any other company officials announced the change or responded to repeated ENR requests for confirmation or comment. Bowker, who assumed his post in 2009 and is former vice chairman of British Waterways, did not support the terminations but was overruled by the company’s board, according to project sources.

Union Railway shifted PB’s contracted work to UK-based engineer Atkins, which had previously won a smaller engineering contract for an earlier stage of the project, says Atkins CEO Keith Clarke. He declined further comment.

Published reports speculate that Union Railway may award the project management contract to AECOM, New York City, or could reprocure it. AECOM declines comment.

“We are extremely disappointed and perplexed in the Union Railway board's decision to remove us from the contract during the mobilization period,” says PB President and CEO George J. Pierson in a statement. “We have been assured by Union Railway that the decision has nothing to do with our performance—indeed we had not yet begun work on the assignment—and that PB's reputation as a global provider of transportation consultancy services remains in tact.”

Spokeswomen for SYSTRA and for Parsons Corp. declined comment on the status of the project management contract.

In announcing the project last fall, Bowker referred to the 1,300-kilometer rail network, the UAE’s first, as “world class.” In a Dec. 2, 2010 announcement of the project award by Parsons, Bowker notes the JV team’s “proven track record in rail transport project management” and the “great value” of its “expertise” as program and construction manager of the $6.7-billion Dubai Metro rail project.

Bowker also said Union Railway was “delighted” to name PB as design consultant for the project’s two stages covering the network in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and in the northern Emirates. He noted that the firm’s “global engineering experience” would be a “great asset”  to the project.

The UAE rail network, set to be complete in 2018, would link commercial and industrial centers with seaports and airports, with plans for passenger service, including a dedicated line between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Bowker said last fall.

The first leg of the project, set to be complete in 2014, would link the Shah sour gas field on state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. to Ruwais. The network is also set to link to rail lines now under way in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain.