ABU DHABI // For centuries the Liwa Oasis provided sanctuary for the Bedouin people.
Now it will provide sanctuary for the nation’s trains.
When construction begins on the first leg of the 1,200-kilometre Etihad railway, months of work will already have gone into research to conquer the one thing that can stop an Arabian train in its tracks: sand.
Engineers can carve tunnels through mountains but the fight against sand is fought on shifting battle lines. Though sand can be so light that it floats on air, it is the impermanence of the shifting dunes that gives them the strength to halt a train moving at 200kph.
“It’s not the enemy of the train, but the nature of the UAE’s desert topography and sand movement could become an obstruction,” said Shadi Malak, the commercial executive director of Etihad Rail. “It’s very important before we build the trains that we learn from other nations that have gone through this experience and have come across these challenges.”
Etihad Rail engineers have travelled to deserts in China and looked to Saudi Arabia and Mauritania for answers. Chinese railways have plants that can turn sand dunes to clay over 20 to 30 years. Saudi Arabia has sand-sucking locomotives that push sand particles away from the engine. Mauritania has “sand patrols” – motorists who monitor dune movement.
“The sand moves over a period of months and years so you have to keep an eye on this and deal with it before it comes to you,” Mr Malak said.
Then there is the topography. Ditches or hills alongside the track can act as sand traps, while both wind and sand can be controlled by planting walls of vegetation. More info