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Train game: Alstom's Riyadh Metro trainsets

by John Bambridge on Mar 12, 2017

The Riyadh Metro is a project of many milestones. The development of a comprehensive public transport system for the largest city in the GCC represents, in many ways, a watershed moment for Saudi Arabia and for urban planning in the Gulf.

There is no questioning that the plan by Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA) to install 176km of railway lines and construct 85 stations in a single $22.5bn project is an ambitious endeavour for a city where no comprehensive mass transit system has previously been implemented.

It is also timely, because Riyadh as a city has ballooned from a settlement just 2.2km2 across in 1940 into the largest city in the GCC both by populace and its largely low-rise urban sprawl across an area of approximately 1,000km2.

Presenting the case for the project is Khalid Alhazani, director of architectural project programme and public affairs at ADA, who notes: “In 2016, the population of Riyadh was 6.5 million, or one fifth of the country’s population, and we are forecasting that by 2030 that figure will increase to 8.3 million people.

“People in Riyadh made 7.4 million daily trips in 2016, and our forecasts project that without the metro, this number would double to 15 million by 2030, while the number of daily hours spent on the road was two million hours in 2016, with a forecast of 4.7 million hours. These forecasts are problematic, and one of the solutions is Riyadh Metro, which will also help with the economic growth of the city.”

The Riyadh Public Transport Project has two separate but integrated components: the Riyadh Metro and a bus rapid transit system. The Riyadh Metro and its stations straddle the densest parts of the city and places of interest and will be complemented by the bus rapid transit network, which will act as a satellite service connecting passengers to the metro.

In terms of passenger projections for the metro, Alhazani states: “We are expecting that the metro project will transfer almost 1.2 million passengers daily at its start-up capacity, and that this number will grow to 3.6 in its augmented capacity.”

Part of the reason for this gradual ramp up in capacity is the fact that the entire notion of public transport will be a startling novel concept for the people of Riyadh.

Addressing this issue, from planning through to execution, great care has been taken to deliver a metro system that will encourage the people of Riyadh to both use and take ownership of it — from the integration of traditional elements of the city’s architecture and cultural heritage into the design to the 1,400 Saudi engineers that have been involved in the project.

Taking the project from its vision and planning to implementation for Lines 4, 5 and 6 (Yellow, Green, and Purple), is the FAST Consortium (led by Spain’s FCC Construction and including Alstom, Samsung C&T, Strukton and Freysinnet) — and which celebrated the milestone in early February of sending the very first trainset manufactured by Alstom on its way by cargo ship towards Saudi Arabia.

Alstom is manufacturing 69 aluminium two-car trainsets, each 36m-long and capable of holding 231 passengers. These trainsets will be guided by the rail system provider’s Urbalis 400 radio communication-based train control signalling technology to precisely and — in the case of the Riyadh Metro — autonomously, control the movement of trains. This will allow the trains to run on the line at higher frequencies and speeds in total safety.

The trainsets are 100% motorised, meaning that the cars provide their own propulsion, can achieve a top speed of 90kph on flats, and handle gradients of up to six percent.

Alstom is also responsible for supplying the power supply with its Hesop system of reversible power-supply substations, which optimises the power required for traction and captures 99% of the recoverable energy during braking for re-use within the metro system.