(MENAFN - Emirates News Agency (WAM)) With construction of the first 264 kilometres of its 1,200-kilometre national rail project under development, Etihad Rail's US11 billion plans to connect the region from ports to borders is fast gaining momentum as the tracks are laid for an integrated GCC-wide rail freight and passenger transportation network that will support intra-regional trade and drive sustainable economic growth across the Gulf.
The future of logistics and transportation networks will be timetabled for discussion at the third annual edition of the upcoming World Ports '&' Trade Summit, held in strategic partnership with the Abu Dhabi Ports Company (ADPC), as global ports, key industry players and members of the International Association of Ports '&' Harbours (IAPH) meet in Abu Dhabi from 19-20 March 2013.
"The new tri-phased Etihad Rail project is just the first step in delivering an integrated land, sea and air transportation network for the GCC, which will not only lead the way for sustainable economic growth, but which will support government objectives to reduce the volume of truck traffic clogging the country's roads," said Chris Hayman, Chairman of Seatrade, organisers of the World Ports '&' Trade Summit.
"And with the debut of Khalifa Port, the UAE is home to 65% of the region's port facilities which, when connected with the fledgling rail network through Kizad, will have the infrastructure potential to make a massive leap in the volume of intra-regional trade," he added Phase one of the project, which is being developed in partnership with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), and which will connect Shah and Habshan to Ruwais in the Western Region, is on schedule for a 2014 operational launch.
In its second phase, the network will be linked to Khalifa and Jebel Ali Ports, and extended by 628 kilometres to Mussaffah, Al Ain, Ghweifat and Dubai by 2016, with phase three taking the project to the Northern Emirates of Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah by 2018, and including the first passenger services. Outside of the UAE, the network will connect with the proposed greater GCC network to Saudi Arabia, through the Ghweifat border, and to Oman via Al Ain.
A MoU signed with DP World to develop an intermodal rail terminal in Jebel Ali Port, which will enable the more efficient transfer of containerised freight, and an agreement with the Centre of Waste Management - Abu Dhabi, to support long sustainable waste transport system objectives, will see the integration of the network into its strategy to convert waste into energy.
"Producing up to 80% less CO2 emissions than road vehicles, the Etihad Rail network and the UAE's ports will work in synergy to operate a cost-effective sea-to-land transport solution that will positively impact environmental goals as part of the government's 2030 economic vision," added Hayman.
Taking place at the five-star St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, and an annual calendar event for global economists, port authorities, terminal operators, shipping companies, global cargo owners and investors, the two-day summit will deliver a focused programme of conference sessions designed to promote trade development, examine supply chain management systems and discuss port efficiency.