Thomas Kautzor reports:
May 15-19, 2016 together with Torsten Schneider I visited the U.A.E. and Oman to take photos of trains.
Our two-day visit to Abu Dhabi to photograph Etihad Rail went well (= we were not arrested). I had written twice to the railway through their online contact form to ask for permission to visit their maintenance facility at Al Mirfa but never got an answer. On site we met the head of security, a South African ex-SAP who had previously worked in Afghanistan, and he told us that we should be very careful with Abu Dhabi Police not seeing us as the railway is considered a “Critical National Infrastructure” and we could have problems if we were seen photographing it. ER is being operated by DB Schenker, with DB International in charge of infrastructure and DB Cargo in charge of operations. As a result, most loco drivers are German and British expats who previously worked for DB Schenker in Germany or the U.K., although officially there are also some Emiratis drivers. The only product being transported is granulated Sulphur, a byproduct of the oilfields, which is carried for ADNOC, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.
The line runs for about 100 km along the coast and then 160 km inland past Liwa oasis to the loading point at Shah (km 264). There is another loading point at Habshan, between the coast and Madinat Zayed. There are loops for the trains to turn at both loading points and at the unloading facility at the port of Ruwais. ER has seven 4500hp EMD SD70ACS (identical desert locos operate with SAR in Saudi Arabia and with SNIM in Mauritania) and 240 chinese-made covered hopper wagons, with 11,000-tonnes 110-car 1.8 km-long trains hauled by three locos. Empties travel at 100 km/h, loaded trains at 80 km/h.
The trains leave the depot at Mirfa to the loading points, then run to Ruwais to unload and then return to Mirfa. The Habshan run takes place mostly at night, with only the Ruwais to Mirfa section during daylight, but apart from the closed motorway bridge at Ruwais there is no access to the line, and the day we went there we had just missed it as it had left earlier than scheduled. The longer Shah turn is more favorable to photographers as it leaves Mirfa shortly after daybreak and cames back in the afternoon. The line is fenced-in all of its length, but there are a few bridges over the railway from where the train can be photographed.
The line along the coast is double-track as it was going to be part of the GCC Rail Network which was to link Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the U.A.E. and Oman. After the official opening of the existing line in 12/2015 (which has seen test runs since 09/2013), it was however announced in 01/2016 that the tendering process for Phase 2 of Etihad Rail (628 km) had been suspended until further notice as a result of the low oil prices. This included the link from Ruwais to Ghweifat on the Saudi border as well as from Liwa Junction (Tarif) to Al Ain (on the border with Oman). Since then, the Saudis have stated that they had changed their priorities to building up their domestic network and the Omanis have also suspended the tendering for their part of the network in order to rethink their priorities in view of the fact that the connection from the U.A.E. will not be built in the near future.
In Abu Dhabi city, we also visited the Khalifa Park Railway, AD’s first railway (609mm) opened in 2007. The loco is Severn Lamb “Lincoln” class 2131.FEB.03, with the 68hp Kubota V3300 engine in the tender. As there no other passengers for the first train of the day at 3 pm, we were able to turn it into a photo charter with the friendly assistance of the Bangla train Crew.
The Palm Monorail links the Gateway parking garage on the mainland (served by a Dubai Tram station) with the Atlantis Aquaventure hotel complex on Palm Jumeirah (a palm-shaped man-made island) since 2009. It is operated by Serco for real estate firm Nakheel. Two out of four three-part driverless straddle-beam monorail trains built by the Marubeni Corp./Osaka Monorail Co. Ltd. in Japan are in operations on a 23 min. frequency. The ride only takes 10 minutes and is used mainly by tourists as it much easier and cheaper to drive onto the island. Moreover, connections to other modes of public transport at the Gateway are poor. Initial plans called for an extension of the monorail to Dubai Internet City metro station, which would have made it more attractive to commuters. There are two intermediate stations, but although trains stop there for a few seconds, these are not open yet.
After Abu Dhabi, we spent two days photographing the various metros and trams of Dubai. First was Baguley-Drewry 4wDH 3655/1968 (12 tons, 80hp Perkins 6.354 engine) at Mushrif Park. Together with two other BD No. 3656-7/1968 and two RH 0-4-0DE 165DE 418595/1957 and 418599/1958 it was used in Dubai by Costain International Ltd. as No. L1-L5 during construction of Port Rashindfrom 1968 to 1971. After completion, all five locos and the 18 Butterley Co. Ltd. flat cars were put into storage in Dubai and in 1975 L1 and two of the cars donated to the city for use on an 0.8 km long line at newly-opened Mushrif Park (10 km east of Dubai Airport). The two flat cars were fitted with passenger car bodies made of plywood and benches. Although initial plans were for the line to be extended into a loop around the park, the railway only lasted until 1981 when it was replaced by a road train and the train was put on display next to the passenger loading platform.
Since then, apart from a park railway at Safa Park, Dubai had been without a railway until the opening of the first section of Dubai Metro’s Red Line in 2009 and of the Palm Monorail the same year. Since then, Dubai now has two metro lines, a tram line, a trolley (tram) and a monorail.
Dubai Metro consists of the 52 km-long Red Line from Rashidiya to Jebel Ali and the 22.5 km-long Green Line from Etisalat to Creek. 79 five-car driverless trains built by Kinky Sharyo are in use on the system (60 on the Red and 19 on the Green Line), which are maintained in three depots (Rashidiya, Jebel Ali and Etisalat). One car on each train has a “Gold Class” section (double the fare) as well as a “Women & Children” section. Most of the lines are elevated, except in the city center where they are underground. The two lines connect at both Union and Bur Juman stations. The Metro is difficult to photograph from public ground because there are few vantage points above the tracks; the only possibilities are a few road bridges or parking facilities. The other option is to photograph through the station or the trains’ front windows. All stations are air-conditioned and fully enclosed. Dubai Metro is operated by Serco for the Dubai Roads & Transport Authority (RTA). There were once great plans to extend the metro with four more lines to 421 km of track, but that is momentarily on hold. However, a 14.5 km extension of the Red Line to the Expo 2020 site has been approved and construction is to start soon, while design work for a 20.6 km extension of the Green Line is to start in 2017.
Dubai Tram serves the Dubai Marina as well as the Al Sufouh neighborhood since 2014. The present 10.6 km line has 11 stations and is equipped with APS II ground-level power supply (only track within the maintenance center is equipped with overhead catenary). There are presently eleven Alstom Citadis 402 7-section trams, of which six are in use during non-rush hours. There are plans to extend the line by 5 km from Al Sufouh to the Mall of the Emirates and to Burj Al Arab (initial plans were for the tram to run all the way along Jumeirah Beach Road to the old center of Dubai). The Tram is also operated by Serco for the RTA, as with the Metro each tram features a “Gold Class” and a “Women & Children” sections, and all stations are fully-enclosed and air-conditioned. In order for the doors to align correctly, after the driver stops the tram at the station an autopilot takes over for a final move. At one point we were asked at a station by a Filipino security guard whether we had a permit to take photos of the trams, but we we told him “no” he said that it was ok anyway.
Dubai Trolley started operating next to Dubai Mall in Downtown Dubai in 2015 with one double-decker hydrogen-electric battery tram built by TIG/m in California (of the same type as the trams in Aruba). Although the line is officially 1.1 km long with three stations and a crossing loop in the middle, it measures at only 0.6 km. It is essentially a tourist tram, as is the case in Aruba it is faster to walk. There are plans to extend the line by 4.6 km to loop around the Burj Khalifa (the world’s highest building), which would include a section through the parking garage of Dubai Mall, and a second trolley is expected soon. The Trolley is owned by real estate giant Emaar. During the hotter summer month the lower level of the trolley can be enclosed and air-conditioned, as can waiting rooms at two of the three stations