A need to link-up for the future
The regional population explosion has placed pressure on transport infrastructure and brought home the need for integrated public transport networks. Conrad Egbert explores how the development of light rail projects is taking shape across the Middle East.
With the Middle East's booming economy and the constantly increasing expatriate workforce in the region, the inadequacy of roads and public transport facilities has become a major concern.
The need to put in place some form of linear public transport system is being felt by many Gulf states including Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and even the different emirates in the UAE, which have begun to consider the benefits of metro and rail systems.
Iran already has part of its metro system in place and is in the process of constructing its second phase, which will add another three rail transit lines and bring the total of urban and suburban metro lines to 200km. The projected share of journeys by metro at the end of this phase in 2012 is 25%.
Following in the tracks of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, with the largest land area in the region, is planning to construct metro links in different cities including Riyadh, Jeddah and Madinah. The Riyadh metro will operate in two main areas of the capital and will be established by the Arriyadh Development Authority (ARD). The first phase will operate between Olaya and Batha, and the second along Prince Abdullah Road. These two routes were approved by ARD after the presentation of a study carried out for the project.
The Saudi Arabian government also plans to introduce light rail systems, in addition to buses, to replace privately owned mini-buses that are currently being used to transport the public.
"Many lines are planned for Saudi Arabia," said Ahmed Arees, project manager, Saudi Bin Ladin Group. "So far, Riyadh will have two lines, but that could increase depending on how successful the metro system turns out to be. According to initial plans, Jeddah and Madinah will also have their own metro systems."
Similarly, Kuwait and Qatar are also looking to build metro systems of their own.
The Ministry of Public Works announced the plan for a metro link in Kuwait six months ago, while plans for the Qatar metro were revealed at a conference last month.
The Kuwaiti ministry for public works said that introducing a commuter service was a key solution to the country's worsening traffic conditions. And even though the metro train service project is just a blueprint - it hasn't yet been decided if it will run overland or underground - it is much needed and expected to take shape sooner or later.
"A public transport system is essential for the development of a country," said Lee Morris, associate director and senior design architect, Atkins Middle East, consultant on the Dubai Metro project.
"If you look at all the big cities in the world, you'll find that they have some form of linear public transport network running underneath them. It is essential to contain a growing population, especially in countries whose economies are booming."
The most recent developments have been within the UAE, with emirates such as Abu Dhabi, Ajman and Sharjah considering introducing metros to ease their own traffic situations.
"It has to happen eventually," said Rami Dabbas, head of real estate development, Ajman Development and Investment Authority.
"With the UAE's economy booming on a whole and even the economies of individual emirates growing, a need for the cities to be interlinked via a smart public transport system has become quite pressing.
"So many people live in Ajman and work in Dubai - it has become a big issue for us. Development of other emirates in the UAE is vital to help the country grow even further and a metro system is a great stepping-stone towards infrastructure progress.
"Abu Dhabi is considering a metro system and so is Sharjah, since the Ajman metro will eventually have to go through Sharjah to link up with Dubai's metro," he added.
With Dubai's population expected to reach 5.5 million by 2020 (from a current figure of 1.6 million) and with chronic congestion on the roads already, the need for an advanced public transport system is clear.
Dubai's metro system is already under construction and boasts a total investment of US $4.2 billion (AED15.5 billion) for the first phase. It is expected to be completed by 2009 and will be the longest metro system in the world.