Despite the social unrest in the region, plans for the UAE\'s railway, which is set to eventually span the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), are still on track and unchanged, a senior executive from Etihad Rail said in the capital yesterday. Because cross-border issues for the wider network will be complicated, the GCC General Secretariat is seeking advice about the functions and constitution of a GCC Railway Authority, Richard Bowker, chief executive officer of Etihad Rail, told Gulf News. \"Etihad Rail will support the work of establishing this GCC rail authority, and help in the essential coordination of regulatory standards, border controls, interoperability standards, pricing, booking systems and revenue sharing,\" Bowker said. The $40 billion (Dh146.89 billion) UAE rail network will link all of the country\'s major population hubs, as well as connect to Saudi Arabia via Ghweifat in the west and Oman via Al Ain in the east. Reduced emissions The network\'s first route will be completed in early 2013 to transport granulated sulphur from Shah and Habshan to Ruwais, so that it can be exported in partnership with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc). Speaking to real estate and investment executives at Cityscape Abu Dhabi on Monday, Bowker said one of the major advantages of the network would be the reduction in emissions it would make possible during freight transport, which is the company\'s first priority. \"One fully-loaded train can carry as much freight as 300 trucks, leading to an almost 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions for transporting the same amount of freight. \"So while rail is very efficient for transporting freight from a capacity perspective, it is even more advantageous from an environmental perspective,\" he said. The trains will initially operate on diesel, but Etihad Rail has said the tracks and trains will have provisions in place so that electric power can be used in the future. Because the trains will be used to transport freight, a spokesperson from Etihad Rail told Gulf News that the company is close to completing a concept design for an offshore railway terminal at Khalifa Port. \"The terminal will complement the onshore network within the Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (Kizad) that, as a vital element of Abu Dhabi\'s economic diversification, will be integrated within our planned network,\" the spokesperson added. Passenger services In the UAE, the rail network will extend about 1,200 kilometres, and is expected to transport about 50 million tonnes of freight and 16 million passengers over the next 20 to 30 years. After the freight transportation begins in late 2013 or early 2014, routes will be developed and passenger services will be added.