In late November, the owner of a planned $11-billion, 1,200-kilometer freight and passenger rail complex across the United Arab Emirates announced with fanfare design and program management awards to three major international firms. But Abu Dhabi-based Union Railway Co. now is mum about why it suddenly dismissed the winners without any apparent explanation to the firms.

Union Railway last month terminated a joint venture of Parsons Corp., Pasadena, Calif., and Paris-based SYSTRA, awarded the project’s PM contract, as well as 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.

Neither Union Railway CEO Richard Bowker nor other officials announced the changes or responded to requests for confirmation or comment. Project sources speculate that Bowker, who assumed his post in 2009, did not support the moves but was overruled by the company board. Union Railway has shifted PB’s contract work to U.K.-based engineer Atkins, which held a smaller design contract at an earlier project stage. Atkins CEO Keith Clarke confirms the award but declines further comment on the change.

“We are extremely disappointed and perplexed [by] 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.” Spokeswomen for SYSTRA and Parsons declined comment. Published reports speculate that Union Railway may award the PM contract to AECOM, New York City, or may reprocure it. AECOM declines comment.

The railway now is prequalifying firms for construction work on the first 270-km segment, with bids set to be issued in March. Contract values were not disclosed.