Tenders for the project were issued as long ago as 2012 but the 628km project, which will provide a link from Habshan to Oman via Al Ain, and will connect with the UAE's three major ports at Khalifa, Dubai and Mussafah, and extend the existing line from Ruwais to the Saudi Arabian border has failed to progress.

However, Etihad Rail acting CEO Mr Faris Saif Al Mazrouei told delegates at the GCC Rail and Metro conference in Muscat, Oman, on January 11 that the project, which is estimated to cost $US 11bn, is close to receiving the green light from the UAE government.

"Stage two is with the government right now," Al Mazrouei said. "They're reviewing all of the documents as we speak. We're almost there; all the work has been done. I know the contractors have been waiting, but it's a lot of money that the country has got to spend and we have to answer all of the queries from the government."

Al Mazrouei told the conference that testing and commissioning of the first phase, the 264km line from Shah to Habshan and Ruwais, is close to completion, with the first completed section of the railway already carrying granulated sulphur.

In addition, Al Mazrouei also expressed his desire to proceed with the third phase of the national railway project, which will add 279km to the network and provide a connection to the northern regions of the country.