Middle East Rail

Graeme Bampton
The rail sector is one of the most robust markets in the Middle East region, key to the GCC governments’ commitment to long term infrastructure development.

The rapid growth of urbanisation has prompted exploration of alternative modes of passenger transport, with rail emerging as the leader. Commercial transport and logistics requirements also point to rail as the best way to reduce road congestion and increase freight efficiency. The UAE pioneered the region’s rail revolution with the Dubai Metro project and this has triggered a series of similar projects.

The rapid growth of urbanisation has prompted exploration of alternative modes of passenger transport, with rail emerging as the leader. 

Each country has different priorities but all have plans to boost their economies and improve connectivity through sustainable rail transport. Projects totalling USD 149 billion are planned or underway in the region, including national railway systems, long distance freight routes, metro, tram and monorail systems.

The most ambitious project is the development of the 2,177 kilometre Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Rail Network, linking the member states and boosting intra-regional trade. The planned route goes down the Gulf coast from Kuwait, through Saudi Arabia, to the UAE and Oman, with branches linking Bahrain and Qatar.

However the GCC governments need national rail networks in place before this scheme can become a reality. Each of the six member states has launched individual long-range projects and these are proceeding at widely varying paces. Determining the cost-sharing process and the governance of the scheme will be challenging. Efficient coordination between the different rail authorities is untested here and achieving interoperability, with uniform standards and specifications on the six networks, is expected to be difficult.

The most ambitious project is the development of the 2,177 kilometre GCC Rail Network, linking the member states and boosting intra-regional trade

In the meantime the countries are also focusing on their urban transport schemes. Consumer attitudes towards these remain a challenge, as low petrol costs have meant little incentive to leave the car at home. Transport planning will now need to address this, developing projects in the context of wider intermodal transportation systems, including buses, light rail and cars. Integration of rail/metro/tram stations into current and planned residential and business areas, with efficient modal connectivity, will drive culture change. In line with global trends, there is potential for commercialisation of stations to encompass retail facilities, making the stations attractive destinations in their own right.

Successful delivery of the region’s ambitious plans will present strong challenges. Although there is clear opportunity and tremendous appetite for rail development, the lack of local experience and the scale of activity are significant barriers. Rail is a new concept for most of the region, and there is little precedence for coordinating huge infrastructure projects that require land acquisition, complex statutory authority approvals and long-term funding, procurement and resourcing strategies. Planning and integration of these projects within the wider construction market will be vital, to prevent overheating in the marketplace. Logistics planning will be especially important, to overcome the limited capacity of the existing regional infrastructure. The increased demand for materials will create further pressure on already constrained ports and highways.

The rail sector forms an important part of Faithful+Gould’s strategic growth in the Middle East. We have considerable cost management, project management and cost modelling experience in the rail industry.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are currently seeing the highest activity in the rail sector, followed by Oman, Kuwait and the UAE. Saudi Arabia’s latest plans are to invest in a new public transport system covering roads, railways and seaways in Jeddah. Similar multi-modal projects were earlier approved for Riyadh and Makkah. The rail sector forms an important part of Faithful+Gould’s strategic growth in the Middle East. We have considerable cost management, project management and cost modelling experience in the rail industry. Our expertise is reinforced by strong links with our parent company Atkins, leading providers of rail engineering and systems design.

Together with Atkins we are working on a range of rail infrastructure projects, including a Central Planning Office (CPO) to coordinate Qatar’s road, rail and metro projects, with improvements ahead of the FIFA 2022 World Cup. Other commissions include Kuwait Metro, Etihad Rail UAE, Dubai Metro UAE, Qatar’s Lusail LRT and a PPP development at the Union Square Metro site in the central Bur Dubai area.