Train game: Alstom's Riyadh Metro trainsets

PMV Middle East explores what Riyadh Metro really means for the Saudi capital as Alstom sends the first metro trainsets on their way from its plant in Katowice, Poland

ANALYSIS, PMV, Alstom, Riyadh Metro

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.

The FAST package will have 32 of Alstom’s Hesop energy recovery units, reducing energy consumption by as much as 20% and lessening the heat generated by braking in the tunnels.

During the construction phase, Alstom is also employing Appitrack, a mechanised solution that allows rail track to be installed three to four times faster than traditional methods, reducing logistics, CO2 emissions, noise, dust and waste, and limiting the disturbance caused to road traffic. In all, FAST Consortium’s construction package covers a total of 64.5km of track and 29 stations, including 33km of viaduct, and is worth $6.4bn, and of that, Alstom’s share is worth more than $1.3bn.

The complete order of metro trainsets, along with the infrastructure, is scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2018, ready for testing ahead of the ultimate completion of opening of the metro system in 2019.

The making of a train

As for the trainsets, they are being manufactured at the Alstom Konstal plant in the city of Chorzow, Poland, 10km to the northwest of the city of Katowice, which PMV Middle East visited for a conference on the 7th of February, attended by members of the regional media and the Riyadh authority, including Alhazani.

This plant was selected for the production of the Riaydh Metro trainsets owing to its aluminium fabrication capabilities and its relative proximity to Saudi Arabia compared to other capable facilities.

At the time of the visit, three trainsets were being tested and five were being built — so eight metro trainsets were in the production phase, leaving, with one already on its way to Riyadh, a pipeline of 60 left to produce.

PMV caught up with Radoslaw Banach, the managing director for the Katowice site, to discuss the logistics of the operation at the plant. The challenges have been significant, in turns out, even for a manufacturer as experienced as Alstom. For a start, the delivery window for the order is quite small for the work needed, and it will require the Polish to ramp up its production capacity with time.

At present, Alstom is still in the process of optimising the production of the Riyadh Metro units. It is fairly typical in manufacturing around the world for there to be a warm-up period after the introduction of a new trainset design onto the production line — to allow the processes to be tested and the operators to get accustomed to the new work flow.

In the case of the Riyadh Metro, almost every component of the trainsets has had to be customised to meet the climatic conditions in the region and ADA’s design specifications, which lay out a uniform style guide for the trainsets regardless of manufacturer.

There has been another essential change. “This is the first modular concept,” explained Banach. “We are even installing windows before building the train — but it makes the production process much more flexible.”

The key benefit of modular assembly is that many of the components of a single trainset can be worked on simultaneously. The windows are a particularly good example. This could be witnessed in the plant, where workers were installing the glass first into wall panels.

In a traditional production process, the panels would be fastened to the train chassis and then the glass would be installed into the panels. A modular style of construction also improves the ease of access for the workers.

However, the added complexity means that there is all the more to get used to. Banach noted: “Once you introduce a new process and equipment from suppliers you’ve never used before, then you have to test it all in real life — you cannot predict everything, and so the challenge was to do it all on the first assembly.”

Indeed, so short is the timeframe for the project that many of the production processes were tested for the very first on the train that set off for Riyadh by boat on the 10th of January.

Once the adjustment period is over, the second part of roadmap to successfully handle the project on time is for Alstom Poland to install a second, parallel production line.

Banach explained: “We will have to increase our capacity very shortly. The second line should be installed by the end of summer and be up and running by the end of the year. We will also need to hire people for the new line and for this fiscal year, we plan to increase our headcount by about 200 people.”

Coincidentally, the Katowice plant will also be producing the 50 five-car trainsets that Alstom is providing for the expansion of the Dubai Metro, named the Route 2020, for the World Expo 2020, and it was the fact that this pipeline will be tagging onto and overlapping with the Riyadh Metro pipeline that drove the decision to establish a second production line.

Banach explained: “The focus area is always the projects that we have — so the Riyadh Metro — but then we won the contract for the Dubai Metro, and we had to re-analyse the capacity that we needed to deliver both projects on time. This is how we estimated that we needed a second line — to deliver both projects without jeopardising either of them.”

The Route 2020 project is worth around $2.9bn and is being handled by the Alstom-led Expolink Consortium, which includes Spain’s Acciona and Turkey’s Gulermack, with France’s Thales Group as subcontractor for some of the technological systems. The extension spans 15 km from the current Nakheel Harbour & Tower Station to the location of Expo 2020. Of the 50 trains that Alstom will supply, 15 will serve the Expo and 35 will upgrade the level of service on the existing Dubai Metro.

Back in Riyadh, the cards are arguably stacked in favour of the city emerging as a highly organised and navigable urban centre. The grid-style street layout that was established in the 1950s is an inherent advantage which will be complemented by the arterial metro system and should facilitate the smooth passage of buses along the project’s dedicated bus lanes and 25 routes.

As noted by Alhazani, the biggest challenge for the Riyadh Metro will be getting the people of Riyadh to overcome the inertia of their driv-ing habits in favour of public transport.

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