UAE and Saudi Arabia lead GCC rail, metro construction schemes
The increasing popularity of Dubai Metro highlights the impact of rail schemes in the Gulf, where Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia are looking beyond roads for the future
Road congestion is a serious problem in the world’s biggest cities, and the Middle East is no exception. For instance, Dubai’s motorists spent an average of 29 hours stuck in traffic in 2017. The figure is “a lot lower” than the time that drivers in London, Paris, New York, and Bangkok were stuck in congestion, according to a study by Inrix, cited by Gulf News this February.
As the roads get busier, alternative modes of transport, such as Dubai Metro, are gaining even more popularity in the emirate. During the first half of this year, Dubai Metro’s Red and Green Lines transported 103.3 million riders, a notable hike against compared the 100.5 million travellers noted in H1 2017. Meanwhile, Dubai Tram was used by 3.2 million riders, the emirate’s Media Office reported this August.
It is no surprise, then, that rail transport and infrastructure development is a growing industry in the Gulf, with significant progress already noted in the sector this year.
For instance, it was reported last month that work would imminently begin on Kuwait’s and Bahrain’s respective rail networks. According to Arabian Business, work has already begun on a 111km railway project to connect Kuwait with the rest of the Gulf region.
The first phase of the project, set to cost $3bn (KWD908.4m), will create a line to Nuwaiseb on the Saudi border and a 153km line linking Kuwait City with Boubyan Port. Stretching through all six Gulf states from Kuwait to Oman, the 2,100km passenger and cargo network has “faced technical and bureaucratic obstacles, and stalled as state budgets tightened because of low oil prices”, the report stated.
Moreover, Bahrain has also reportedly said that it will not connect its network to neighbouring state, Saudi Arabia, “until at least 2023”. Work on Bahrain’s long-promised light rail system, according to a separate Arabian Business report, is likely to start in Q3 2019 as it seeks bids for construction.
According to Abdul Rahman Al Janahi, an official from Bahrain’s transport ministry, the country may look to the private sector to partially fund the ambitious project, believed to cost between $1bn (BHD377.2m) and $2bn (BHD754.4m). Similar to issues faced by the Kuwaiti rail project, work on Phase 1 of Bahrain’s light rail system was due to start in 2009, but was halted due to the financial crisis and budgetary approvals.
While there appear to be delays in Kuwait and Bahrain, work is steadily progressing on the rail projects under way in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
This July, US firm Jacobs Engineering Group announced it had been selected to work on the UAE’s Etihad Rail project. Jacobs will deliver critical technical and programme consulting services for the freight and passenger railway network. The firm will also deliver engineering and design services for the network, in addition to reviewing and providing critical oversight for detailed designs, which will be prepared by design and build contractors. Additionally, the company will provide construction supervision services for the development.
“By the end of December 2021 we will have a connection between us and the Saudis,” Abdullah Salem Al Kathiri, director general of the Federal Authority for Land and Marine Transport, reportedly said at a conference in Dubai this March.
Dubai’s Route 2020 metro project is also steadily advancing as it seeks to connect the Expo 2020 Dubai site with the rest of the city. In July, the city’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) revealed that tunnelling work spanning 3.2km, at depths ranging from 12m to 36m, had been completed for the project. Al Wugeisha Expo 2020, the tunnel-drilling machine being used for the development, began work last October at Discovery Gardens. Work on the metro viaducts is due to finish this November, with all railway work for the project to be completed in July 2019. Trial runs are due to start in February 2020.
In Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, test runs began for Riyadh Metro’s Line 4 this June. French transport system provider Alstom revealed it has been conducting initial dynamic tests for the megaproject’s Line 4 Depot Test Track, on which the FAST Consortium is working.
Tests cover the railway system’s performance in terms of power supply and signalling, using trains that have already been delivered for the project, located in Saudi’s capital city.
Saudi Arabia's high-speed Haramain High-Speed Rail project was also due to commence operations in the third quarter of this year. The railway line connects Makkah with Madinah, passing through stations in King Abdullah Economic City, and King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.
The country's Transport Minister, Nabil bin Mohammed Al-Amoudi, said pilot tests for the project began in November 2017, adding that commercial operations would be rolled out starting Q3 2018, with the full capacity of 60 million passengers due to be achieved in Q1 2019.
The socio-economic impact of these rail schemes on the Gulf will be clearer as these projects are completed. However, there is no doubt that these developments will keep the Middle East’s construction community – including technology and facilities management professionals – extremely busy up to 2020 and beyond.