By taking proactive steps, Etihad Rail and Environment Agency — Abu Dhabi (EAD) have been ensuring the highest sustainability standards in the construction of the UAE national rail network, a top official said.
Marking the World Environment Day, Khuloud Al Mazrouei, deputy project manager at Etihad Rail, said that the partnership with EAD has resulted in implementation of sustained environmental stewardship during the planning and construction of the 1,200km railway project. While stage one of the network has been operational since 2016, stage two is more than 75 per cent completed.
“Since the early stages of the project, we have collaborated in a range of initiatives, including habitat conservation, animal protection, and replanting of trees and shrubs across Abu Dhabi, conserving the UAE’s pristine and diverse natural heritage. We assigned a dedicated team of environmental impact assessment specialists, ecologists, air and noise scientists, as well as forestry specialists to manage the complex review process for the project’s environmental studies. Together, we carried out extensive studies to understand species movement routes across the construction path of the project. Habitat surveys were also conducted, in line with our joint priority to protect and conserve Abu Dhabi’s pristine natural heritage,” Al Mazrouei said while explaining the range of initiatives taken to assess and evaluate the natural habitats of wildlife and impact on the environment.
Etihad Rail is the developer and operator of the rail network, which is one of the largest infrastructure projects in the UAE, and stretches across the seven emirates, from Abu Dhabi to the port of the Fujairah in the east, connecting into the GCC through the UAE’s border with Saudi Arabia in the west.
Etihad Rail and EAD carried out detailed environmental baseline surveys for the project’s terrestrial ecology that assessed species including gazelles and dhub lizards, as well as their habitats along the length of the railway to identify their natural corridors. “We have been actively relocating native and high-value trees such as Sidr and Date Palms, with over 550 Ghaf trees being successfully translocated and a further 590 trees planted. Additionally, we are constructing wildlife corridors along the length of the approximately 1,200km long project, and are integrating 95 animal crossings and culverts across the project.”
Implementing the highest environmental standards and preserving the diverse natural heritage of the UAE, animals were transported from the Misanad Nature Reserve, through which the planned route of the national railway runs, to other suitable and protected habitats.
“Misanad Nature Reserve is home to a range of wildlife species, including snakes, Cheeseman’s Gerbils, scorpions, and pigeons. In addition, the rare and endangered Persian wonder gecko, which is one of the most colourful types of gecko present in the UAE, resides in the Misanad Nature Reserve. Etihad Rail has now relocated more than 300 animals, including 242 Middle Eastern Short-Fingered geckos, 24 Baluch rock gecko, five Saw-faced vipers, and others. We also incorporated the design and construction of culverts and wildlife crossings that allows the animals to move beneath the track safely.”
Al Mazrouei pointed out that all necessary precautionary measures have been taken in case of an unforeseen spill.
“At Etihad Rail, we make sure to take all precautions that are necessary, in line with our partners and contractors. The emergency spill response plans are covered as part of EAD’s permit procedures.”
There are several measures in place to enhance environment protection, providing free movement of wildlife and preventing accidents of animals.
“All the Etihad Rail right-of-way corridors and facilities are segregated by different types of fencing, including boundary, sand mitigation, security, anti-dazzle and military fences. Fence installation ensures a secure environment for the rail network, keeping rail corridors safe and maintainable during operations while also providing a secure and well-maintained environment for people and wildlife in the surrounding areas. Stage One crossings, including railway bridges, highway bridges and underpasses, feature continuously along the rail route at a minimum of every six to seven kilometres, but this will dramatically change when the network routes approach suburban and urban conurbations,” Al Mazrouei noted.
“Etihad Rail is continually exploring the need for further structures, and is committed to building more, when and where necessary, to ensure minimal environmental impact.”