Ambitious projects of more than $300 billion in Qatar and Saudi Arabia…

A total of $300bn worth of rail and metro projects are under way or planned in the Middle East & North Africa (Mena) region, the annual Meed Mena Rail & Metro Summit in Dubai was told yesterday.

“Every single country in the Mena region has rail project ambitions,” Meed Projects’ director of analysis Ed James said. “Not all of these projects will go ahead, but the figure is indicative of the scale of what is happening.”

James said Saudi Arabia had the largest rail project pipeline in the region with over $100bn, including the Riyadh Dammam High-Speed Rail, which is currently under study, along with the Eastern Province Municipality — Dammam Metro.

Qatar boasts a rail and metro project pipeline valued at $40bn, followed by the UAE with $30bn. Across the region, the other big investments will be seen in Egypt, Iran, Kuwait and Oman.

Meanwhile, a keynote speaker at the summit says delivering rail and metro megaprojects in the Middle East presents unique challenges.

“A lot of the projects in the region are aiming for completion in the period to 2022,” Fluor (UAE) programme manager Dago Beek said in a keynote speech.

“2020 is a huge challenge whether it is for projects or rolling stock.”

“These are strategic projects where co-operation with all stakeholders is required,” he said. “We need confirmation of stakeholder standards and regulations. We need the required drawings for existing and proposed services. And we need to deal with overlapping transport corridors.”

“We need transport safety laws and multi-modal regulations,” Beek said. “Right of way and land acquisition is an issue. Every piece of land is owned and getting alignment straight is a huge challenge.”

“We should move in a more professional manner when dealing with systems assurance,” Beek said. “And we need to be more professional when we are dealing with communication.”

Beek said that a key technical challenge is dealing with sand dunes drifting across the alignment of railways passing through deserts. “There is no one solution to this challenge,” he said.

A possible technical solution brought forward at the summit was the use of viaducts of about 3mts in height upon which railways would run.

“There is no single solution to this challenge,” Fluor (UAE) programme manager Dago Beek said a question and answer session after his opening keynote speech at the summit.

Fluor Corporation and Parsons Brinckerhoff are project managers on the $7bn Saudi Landbridge rail project which will connect Jeddah with Riyadh and the Saudi capital with the Gulf coast.

Beek said the final full alignment of the project is not yet fixed, but it will include a stretch from Jeddah to the Riyadh area. The possible alignment of a link between Riyadh and the Gulf coast is now under review.