Full steam ahead

Rail chiefs insist 2018 target will be met for GCC rail project

ANALYSIS, Projects, Construction Bahrain, Construction dubai, Construction KSA, Construction Kuwait, Construction oman, Construction UAE, GCC rail project, Middle east railway, Rail, Rail projects, Saudi construction, Saudi Rail

Gulf politicians and ministers insist a target to build the 2,144km GCC rail line is achievable, but there is much to do in a short space of time. 

The GCC’s ambitious plans to deliver a 2,177km network linking all six states will be delivered by the end of 2018, Gulf Cooperation Council secretary-general HE Dr Abdul Latif bin Rashid Al Zayani told the GCC Metro and Rail conference in Muscat last week.

Al Zayani said there was a “political will” to make sure the project is delivered by its target date.
“The train has departed. We are all on board,” he said.

Progress to date has been slower than expected, though. Technical and operational guidelines for the rail network have only recently been finalised and plans for a regulatory body still need to be ratified – even though the body should ideally lay down the guidelines for procurement.

Al Zayani said that studies for the regulatory body were being finalised and were likely to be passed this year in order for the project to be delivered on time.

Oman’s Minister of Transport, HE Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Salem Al Futaisi, argued that the agreement of technical and operational standards covering construction, safety and procurement had already been done, and that this was a more important step than having the regulatory body in place.

He also made the point that some states – most notably, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, already have active rail projects in place and cautioned against too much centralisation in the decision-making process, as it could slow projects.

“A very critical milestone will be awarding contracts for the whole line to the contractors,” he said, adding that within the next 12 months member states need to finalise contract awards, the regulatory framework and operator agreements.

“All of them have to go together in line if we want to reach 2018,” he said.

The main theme of this year’s conference was building a sustainable network, which involves setting up local training institutes for operational staff, but also the more difficult step of creating rail supply chains within the GCC economies. Al Futaisi said there were $200bn of opportunities available on rail and metro projects, comprising more than 40,000km of track, in the region.

Maryam Ahmed Jumaan, the Kingdom of Bahrain’s under-secretary for Land Transportation, called for a GCC-wide strategy for managing a supply chain, with a co-ordinated approach to procurement and an agreement for different elements of rail systems to be manufactured within individual states.

“All of the projects taking place at the same time means all member states are competing for resources. To have a strategy to manage that, I think, is key to making sure costs are not inflated and that country objectives are met. I’m not aware that there is any GCC wide strategy or study to look at that but there needs to be.”

Dr Rumaih Al-Rumaih, CEO of Saudi Railways Company, argued that GCC countries need to be able to build supply chains to build a sustainable rail network, partnering with foreign investors where necessary. However, he warned against expecting to be able to manufacture everything locally.

“My advice is not to think too big,” said Al-Rumaih, who also sits on the boards for the companies delivering Metro systems in Riyadh, Makkah and Jeddah.

He said that he has visited overseas manufacturers of locomotives or Metro carriages and the subject of establishing local manufacturing bases has frequently been mentioned, but there are only a handful of specialist firms building these in the world and they would require guaranteed orders for thousands of units to make such facilities viable.

“Our volumes collectively will not make [this],” he said. “At this time, we need to focus on spare parts. Manufacturing wagons, for instance is a workshop job. We need to do this properly – not to aim high and
do nothing.”

Juman said that there were sizeable opportunities for elements that could be delivered by local firms, with more than 21,000km2 of steel rails, 22 million m3 of ballast, 40m sleepers and over 150m clips and pads required.

She said that if a supply chain strategy were to be drawn up, it would allow for the creation of GCC-wide approved supplier lists and categories, a joined-up approvals process, collective bargaining opportunities and an ability to share resources and launch joint training initiatives.

She pointed to the success of Airbus – a co-ordinated project between the governments of France, Spain, Germany
and the United Kingdom – in successfully dividing the supply chain for the A380 between companies in each country as an example of what could be achieved.

Al-Rumaih said that adopting a unified procurement approach such as this “makes sense” – especially as this could provide the volumes some international suppliers would need to set up local manufacturing bases.

“The only thing is to make sure that all GCC countries are on the same wavelength. It’s challenging sometimes.”

Systems analysis

The contract for the train systems to be used in the first phase of the $19.2bn (QR70bn) Doha Metro project is likely to be awarded within the next two weeks, according to Qatar Rail’s deputy CEO Hamad Al Bishri.

Al Bishri presented an update on the Doha Metro project which stated that to date it has awarded eight design and build contracts for all of the lines, plus an initial enabling contract.

“In the first phase we have 37 stations, work has started at 33 of them. The system contract is due to be awarded this month, insha’allah,” he said.

He added that a contract for the rolling stock is also likely to be awarded by the end of the first quarter of this year.

Phase one, which is due to be operational by 2019, requires 21 tunnel boring machines. Some 15 of these have already been delivered to Doha, he added.

“For a project of five years, sometimes there are delays at the start, but overall we are on time,” said Al Bishri.

Back on track

Bidders for phase II of the Etihad Rail project will hear of their fate very soon, says acting CEO Eng Fares Al Mazrouei.

“With stage two, it’s right now with the government,” Al Mazrouei said. “They’re reviewing all of the documents as we speak. We’re almost there.

Tenders for the project were first floated in 2012 and contractors looking to win the work submitted bids more than two years ago.

However, the government has sought “a couple of clarifications” over the submissions, Al Mazrouei said, which have now been dealt with.

“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 by the government.”

Eng Al Mazrouei said that phase one, which has been completed, is a 264km stretch that is now in the testing and commissioning phase.

The second phase will be 628km long and provide an important link in the GCC network between Saudi Arabia on one border and Oman on the other.

It will also provide intercity links between Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, as well as the three major UAE ports - Khalifa, Musaffah and Jebel Ali.

A third phase linking the Northern Emirates will contain 279km of track.

Al Mazrouei said that once complete by 2030, the network will contribute around $950m (AED3.5bn) to the UAE’s GDP.

Shop local

Oman has pledged to limit the involvement of subcontractors looking to get involved with its $15bn rail project to companies within the GCC.

Minister of Transport and Communications, HE Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Salem Al Futaisi, said that although projects in the past had been treated purely as infrastructure schemes, his government was keen to make sure the rail project includes “proper development of human resources”.

“We want this project to be different,” he said. “If you want to go into detail, [look at] what we’ve done in Oman with tenders.”

He said that the consultancy appointed to design Oman’s rail network, Italferr, had to take on and train 50 Omani graduates to ensure a proper knowledge transfer.

“That’s a change in our procurement strategy. We have never done that before,” he said, adding that it had also prepared a vendor list for all of the subcontractors who wished to be involved. Only GCC-based subcontractors and suppliers have been allowed onto the list.

Al Futaisi said that delays to the project to date were understandable, given the complex nature of setting up a railway network, but added that “big advancements” have been achieved, including the finalisation of a cross-border customs union, which is now in its final stages.

Building bridges

Bahrain is set to complete studies into its rail link to Saudi Arabia by the end of March, according to a senior transport ministry official.

HE Eng Maryam Ahmed Jumaan, under-secretary for land transportation from the Kingdom of Bahrain’s Ministry of Transport, said the study, which was due to complete in 2014, will be finished within the first quarter of this year.

“Bahrain has taken great steps in the past two years,” she said, adding that the alignment of the line had already been finalised and that a landing point for the network had also been agreed. Most of the technical and operational guidelines were also in place.

The study has been carried out by Canadian engineering consultancy SNC Lavalin. It has proposed two routes for an 87km-long link that will adjoin two stations on either side of the water. On both sides, stations will be built on land reclaimed from the sea.

She said that Bahrain had faced issues with a number of proposed routes due to its compact urban environment.
“We had conflicting objectives, several stakeholders we had to manage as well as taking into account the speed of other developments.”

The station on reclaimed land will link under a second phase to Bahrain’s port and airport projects, and eventually onto a proposed causeway to Qatar, which is targeted for completion by the FIFA 2022 World Cup. When asked if this would be ready by 2022, she said it would “if the commitment is there.”

Front runner

Saudi Railways Organisation has recently signed a deal with a consultant to undertake detailed design work for its 663km-long leg of the GCC rail project, according to the organisation’s president, HE Mohamed Khaled Al Suwaiket.
Al Suwaiket told the conference in Muscat last Sunday that the design element of the project “will take around 12 months” to complete.

He added that the Kingdom had perhaps the most ambitious future plans for the development of its rail network. It proposes the addition of 15,000km of rail and metro networks over the next 15 years, with work taking place in three, five-year phases.

The first 5,000km to be built in the run-up to 2020 will include the GCC rail project, as well as the Saudi Landbridge scheme linking Jeddah to Riyadh and an extension of the existing Riyadh-Dammam line to reach Jubail Industrial City. Jubail will also be linked to Ras Al Khair Industrial City and a huge phosphate complex at Waad al-Shamal.

Al Suwaiket said that Saudi’s plans should assure external investors looking to set up in the region that the volumes would be there to warrant building manufacturing facilities.

The existing Riyadh-Dammam passenger line is also being upgraded, with the 214km first phase of a $100m-plus project to double the track lines between Hofuf and Harad likely to complete by the middle of this year.

Al Suweikat said that around 95% of the 2,000-or-so rail workers in the Kingdom are Saudi nationals.

Saudi Railways Company CEO Dr Rumaih Al-Rumaih said that it had taken the initiative of establishing a training institute in Qassim, which had its first intake of students last year, to make sure there were locally-trained engineers, signalling staff, drivers and other operators to serve the Kingdom’s
future network.

The two-year programme is being delivered by international training company Pearson TQ.

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