Face to Face: Dr Nasser Al Mansoori [Construction Week (United Arab Emirates)]
(Construction Week (United Arab Emirates) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Etihad Rail CEO Dr Nasser Saif Al Mansoori tells Yamurai Zendera that the tender awards for stage two are imminent and passenger services could arrive before the project completes in 2018.
Dr Nasser Saif Al Mansoori is a busy man as he prepares to close the envelope on stage one of the UAE's first national railway network and announce the long-awaited tender awards for stage two.
The AED40bn ($10.8bn) Etihad Rail project is a 1,200km railway line that will extend across the UAE, from the border of Saudi Arabia to the border of Oman.
It will link major industrial zones, cities and ports in the UAE, and will eventually connect with the GCC railway. It is being built over three stages and is scheduled to be operational by 2018.
Stage two was tendered in July last year and the expectation within the industry was that the contracts would be awarded by the end of the year. However, Etihad Rail CEO Al Mansoori is keen to clarify matters as he sits in his expansive office in the Capital Gate building in Abu Dhabi.
He says the time taken to evaluate the second stage tenders is appropriate given that it forms the greatest chunk of the project in terms of size and scope.
"It's not an easy process," he says. "You have four main construction packages. Secondly, we have had different joint ventures coming in to build this project. We have done all the evaluations and should be, within a very short period of time, awarding the stage."
Stage two, what Al Mansoori describes as "absolutely the heart" of the project, is a 628km line that will connect Abu Dhabi to Dubai and provide links to major ports and industrial zones in the rest of the UAE by 2017. It will also provide the main connection to the GCC railway network at the Oman and Saudi borders.
Aside from awarding the contracts, the funding for the stage has yet to be finalised. Whereas stage one was structured around an offtake agreement with (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company) Adnoc, which will pay Etihad Rail for the delivery of sulphur to Ruwais for export, various options are still being explored.
"Definitely for stage two the Government is there but we are exploring all the options that we have in terms of financing of the project from the market or from getting the support from the Government directly."
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Al Mansoori says tender awards for stage two and also finishing stage one, which has a contractual deadline of October 2014, is his main focus at present.
"Within the next six months I'd like to be finishing and finalising all the issues related to the delivery of stage one," he says. "I would also like to see that we have awarded and finished the mobilisation of stage two. These are the two critical issues."
At the same time, he wants to clarify the position on when the network will provide passenger services. Doubts have been raised by some industry analysts on whether the banks will fund such an operation given the uncertainty on user numbers. Although acknowledging that funding is an issue, he point-blankly says it will happen, and sooner than people might think.
"You don't have the same number of riders that you will have in places like China and Europe. At the end of the day, you want to make sure there is an income that covers your operation," he says.
"Even with that, we understand there's a need; we understand the importance of connecting UAE cities. By 2018 or even before that we might have some services that can be provided in the UAE."
Well in advance of the Etihad Rail project discussions were held with local authorities and interested parties about how the network would integrate with local commuter services such as the Dubai Metro and the planned Abu Dhabi Metro.
"This is part of a fabric, part of a network that has to integrate," says Al Mansoori. "The connection to the local network in terms of passengers is very important to us."
Put to him that it was rumoured the project got off to a slow start at the outset, he points to the fact that overall it is on schedule, and in some places, ahead of schedule. He doesn't deny, however, that there were some mobilisation issues.
"At the end of the day, what you look at is the delivery date and if you are there or not. And I think we promised it [stage one, part one] will be in the middle of October 2013 when we start moving the trains and we were moving the trains on the 23rd of September.
"But if you think you will start a project of this magnitude and it will be easy? No. I think it's not easy to start in the desert in the beginning of August. It's a rough start if we consider all the surrounding conditions. Just being able to move the locomotives from the court to the sites was a big celebration. That in itself might be a small operation in other countries but here it was very difficult because it was our first time."
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The first part of stage one involved the now completed construction of a freight rail line to transport sulphur between Habshan and Ruwais for Adnoc. Dynamic testing of the rolling stock is now taking place.
The second part comprises the extension of the line to Shah, bringing the total length to 264km. Earthworks are being finished and then it's a matter of building the main structures before the track can be laid.
"Shah is in the middle of the desert," says Al Mansoori. "It's going to be a challenge with the sand dunes but so far we have handled them very well. We have tested the behaviour of sand through three different sets of mock-ups that we have used in The Western Region."
He adds that the data gathered during the project on sand mitigation will be useful to the entire GGC rail industry.
"We're collecting and analysing all of the data and applying it to our sand mitigation strategy. We also want to be part of studies that would like to distribute to the industry about dealing with the behaviour of sand and sandy areas like The Western Region.
Hopefully, it will help and enhance the performance of other companies working in such conditions."
He's keen to stress that stage three is "not on the backburner" and very much on track for a 2018 finish. The 279km line will connect Dubai to the Northern Emirates of Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah.
"Our team is working on it; securing clients and going into MoUs (Memorandum of Associations). We're making sure we have workshops and visiting different Emirates," says Al Mansoori. "Stage three is absolutely critical to us and we know that so much of the demand will be coming from there in terms of the bulk."
You wonder if Al Mansoori feels the pressure of being the person entrusted with driving the delivery of such a ground-breaking project for the UAE? Indeed he does.
"The pressure is always there," says the father-of-six.
"The pressure was huge from day one because I was involved in the feasibility study at that time. My role is to create an institution that has a system that can deliver. Once we have a system in place then the pressure is much easier. We know exactly what we are dealing with; we know all the constraints that we have. And we have a very robust strategic plan for 2014, '15 and '16, so we know exactly where we are going."
And given how heavily invested he is in this rail project, is rail his favourite mode of transport? "When we have the service that we think should be available for the people residing in the UAE, it will be my first choice," he says with a smile.
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Main project team
Client - Etihad Rail
Etihad Rail Deutsche Bahn JV - operator
Stage 1 contracts
Contract 1: Project management consultants – Parsons/Aecom JV
Contract 2: Principal D&B contractor – Saipem Dodsal Technimont
Major tier 1 subcontractors
Track laying - Salcef
Systems - Ansaldo STS
Civils - Al Jabber
Civils- United Gulf
Civils- Western Bainoona Group
Contract 3: Locomotives – Electromotive Diesel
Contract 4: Sulphur wagons - CSR of China
Contract 5: Preliminary engineering design - Atkins
Contract 6: Environmental impact analysis - Hyder
- 82 million m³ completed to date.
- Fibre Optic Cable:
• 334km installed to date
- Signaling Cable:
• 335Km installed to date
- GSM-R Communications Towers:
• 23 towers
- Way side equipment shelters:
• 20 wayside equipment shelters installed
- Track laid to date 280km
- Ballast material: 837,540 m³ delivered to date.
- 690,000 sleepers manufactured on site
Major structures (bridges):
- 17 bridges constructed
Minor structures (culverts underpasses etc)
- 224 structures constructed
- 214 Utility protection structures constructed
- 7 electromotive Diesel Class SD070 Diesel locomotives manufactured in the USA and delivered
- 240 sulphur wagons manufactured in China and delivered
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