Abu Dhabi’s Union Railway Co. has begun the procurement process for a roughly $11-billion rail network that will span the United Arab Emirates. Bids for a contract to design and build the fixed infrastructure are due this October.

Map: Walter Konefal For ENR
Rail network will connect the emirates, and ultimately link up with lines being built in neighboring countries.

Scheduled to be complete by 2018, the 1,300-kilometer network would be the first in the Gulf nation. The project will be “world-class,” says Union’s chief executive officer, Richard Bowker.

Construction on the 240-km first phase, which is scheduled to open in 2013, will run between Gweifat, near the Saudi Arabian border, and Ruwais, west of Abu Dhabi city. Ruwais is the site of the U.A.E.’s major oil refineries and other industrial installations.

The line will follow the coast to Tarif, near the Habersham oil field, and then south through Abu Dhabi’s western region to the Shah site of a large oil and gas development.

Most of the network is to be located in Abu Dhabi emirate, but it will link to the port of Jebel Ali in neighboring Dubai. Tracks will also go through the emirates of Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah.

The network’s primary purpose is to link commercial and industrial centers with seaports and airports, but there are also plans for passenger services as well as a dedicated commuter line between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Bowker says.

Bowker declines to put a value on the engineering contract; he says he wants bidding firms to “sharpen their pencils.” Contracts would be placed by the end of the first quarter of 2011, he added.

Union Railway is believed to have invited about 10 groups to bid. “We did not advertise an open prequalification,” says Bowker. “We invited a list of companies directly who we believed were appropriately qualified to bid.”

Bowker took over at Union Railway last summer after a period as chief executive of London-based rail-and-bus company National Express Group. Before that, he chaired the U.K. government’s now defunct Strategic Rail Authority.

Union Railway’s efforts are taking place in tandem with similar rail projects in other Arabian countries. The Saudis will soon open a 2,500-km north-south line, and Oman and Bahrain are starting their own projects.

“You will be able to run a train from Muscat [in Oman] through Abu Dhabi to Saudi [Arabia] right up to the Jordanian border, then through to Turkey and Europe proper,” forecasts Bowker.