Local Business

Middle East railway projects valued at $200 billion

Staff Report
Filed on October 10, 2014

The railway projects translate to more than 33,700 km of mainline routes and 3,000 km of new metro lines.

Dubai: The Mena region is experiencing an unprecedented spate of rail investment. From Africa’s first high-speed rail network in Morocco to Oman’s first ever rail scheme, billions of dollars are being invested in rail and metro projects for the first time.

Today every country has announced rail or metro plans and in total there are more than $200 billion worth of rail and metro projects either planned or under way in the Middle East. This translates to more than 33,700km of mainline routes and 3,000km of new metro lines.

The award of major metro and rail contracts in the Middle has made the region among the most important sources of new work for all those designing, building, supplying and operating railways.

“The Middle East is perhaps the fastest growing market for rail and transit in the world,” says Cosema Crawford, senior vice president and rail and transit global practice leader at Louis Berger. “Cities are growing and mobility is increasing, driving the need for robust public transportation networks.”

“High-speed rail networks are being built in great numbers, particularly in China which now boasts about half of the world’s systems,” adds Crawford, who will be speaking at the 10th annual MEED MENA Rail & Metro Summit which opens in Dubai next month. “An increasing number of system suppliers have entered the market, which should help stabilise pricing.”

More than 250 delegates and guests are expected to attend the conference scheduled on the 20-22 October in Dubai with global experts providing tactical insights on challenges and opportunities confronting the metro and rail sector across the region. Among those who have confirmed include World Bank resident adviser to the GCC on railway projects Ramiz Al Assar.

Crawford will also speak at the conference’s focus day about high-speed rail in the region. The sector is booming across the world, and the Middle East can learn important lessons from the experiences of others. High-speed rail, seen in the Middle East as an innovation, has an extensive history. Confidence is now growing in its capacity to reach new levels of performance and speed.

“Japan is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Shinkansen this year, and it is developing the next generation of maglev trains which will travel at 500 kilometres an hour between Tokyo and Osaka,” Crawford adds. “Louis Berger is involved in bringing the same maglev technology to the United States providing one hour service from Washington DC to New York.”

Crawford says that demand for high-speed rail solutions will increase for more than one reason. “High-speed rail popularity will grow as a better and significantly greener alternative to air and car travel,” she says. “As confidence grows in ridership and revenue figures, PPP opportunities will develop as well.”

The GCC’s first high-speed railway is the 450km Haramain High Speed Rail project that links Jeddah with Rabigh, the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia. It is scheduled to open in 2015 and will break the mould for the Middle East. Also due to open the same year is the Morocco’s TGV network from Tangiers to Casablanca, which will be the first high-speed rail technology to be employed on the African continent.

“As traffic congestion continues to grow, public transportation networks become essential, including intercity travel on high-speed rail,” says Crawford about the need for new transport solutions in the region. High-speed rail is ultimately an instrument for development, and the costs for implementation should be considered and financed in that light. High-speed rail systems are dependent on good local public transportation networks to take riders to their final destinations.”

“Most importantly, there needs to be a cultural shift to accept public transportation systems, Crawford says. “Seasonal high temperatures and lack of pedestrian infrastructure need to be addressed in the design of the stations.”

The engineering challenges are also formidable.

“High-speed rail requires straight alignments in order to maintain speed,” Crawford says. “Developed areas may have difficulty identifying suitable corridors, resulting in compromises on speed, substantial property takings, or extensive tunnelling, with the latter two adding to the cost and schedule.”

“True high-speed rail cannot co-exist with other rail modes on the same tracks, such as freight rail,” Crawford says. “In addition, special solutions are required to maintain the required level of track integrity over long distances of desert conditions with blowing sand.”

— business@khaleejtimes.com

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