Leaders in Rail: Geoff Leffek, Arcadis ME

Geoff Leffek, regional rail director at Arcadis, talks about the impact of the oil slump on the industry and workforce management in lean times

INTERVIEWS, SPECIAL REPORTS, Projects, Arcadis, Rail, Rail construction, Rail construction gcc

What rail projects is Arcadis currently working on?

One of the biggest projects we are currently working on is the engineering for the design of the Jeddah Metro. We are in a joint venture with Foster & Partners – they are doing the architectural design and we are handling the engineering.

We also have a few contracts with Qatar Rail to do the architectural grounding of stations on some of its metro lines. We have project management office (PMO) and project management consultant (PMC) work in Doha, where we are supporting Jacobs Engineering on the Red Line. We also have a contract with Qatar Rail for estimation works on the operational phase of the rail network.

How would you describe the state of the rail sector in contemporary economic conditions?

It feels like there is a bit of a slowdown within the industry at the minute. The slump in oil prices and the expenditure linked to the situation in Syria and Yemen are both causing some issues in the sector.

The development of the rail sector is very focussed on timing at present.

Is the current oil slump affecting the GGC rail sector?

It’s hard to tell the extent at the moment, but there is definitely a slowdown in projects – it feels like projects are being put on hold, although not explicitly, with most companies treading water, almost. Some projects are racing ahead, and again, my feeling is that they are trying to get the spades in the ground to pass the point of no return.

So, we are simultaneously seeing some project slow and some race ahead, and it feels like it’s for the same reaons – but it is hard to tell exactly what is going on. Only time will tell.

What are the main challenges facing the sector?

The slowdown would be the main challenge. These rail projects are huge and require a lot of very skilled and expensive people. If the slowdown continues, then we need to think about what we can do with these people and how to keep them busy – be it through cutting down on manpower or moving this skilled expertise to other parts of the world to work on other projects. Remaining flexible and patient is also key at the moment.

Has Arcadis cut down on manpower?

We haven’t been affected, but I am sure other consultants have.

There seems to be a lot of tendering for PMO and PMC opportunities going on at the moment. So, if we were to face problems with our people, we could shift them from engineering to PMO roles.

It’s not an issue we are having to deal with at the moment, and we have a happy situation where everyone is keeping busy. But, as projects start to wind down this is perhaps something we will have to look at.

Do we have the level of expertise in the GCC required to fulfil our rail projects?

We do – however, I [believe] it is crucial that we don’t do all projects at once because that will lead to a strain on professionals with designers, contractors, and clients all competing for the same people at the same time.

There are limited numbers of rail experts in the world and, of , there are other large-scale projects going on in other key areas globally as well, so it’s crucial that the timings of all these projects are considered.

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