WITH petrol costing just Riyals 0.50/litre ($US 0.13/litre), virtually no parking restrictions and a well-developed road network, Saudi Arabia would appear to be a motoring nirvana. But with almost 600,000 accidents in 2012, Saudi Arabia is one of the least safe countries in which to drive, while population growth is causing congestion to steadily worsen.
Apart from taxis, there is currently little alternative to the car to get around Saudi cities. But this is set is to change as plans to establish comprehensive public transport networks in Riyadh, Jeddah, Mecca, Medina and Dammam start to take shape. "We allocated
Riyals 200bn ($US 53.3bn) to public transport two years ago but we know it won't be enough," Saudi Arabia's transport minister Dr Jubarah bin Eid Al-Suraiseri told IRJ.
Riyadh is the largest city in Saudi Arabia with a population of 5.7 million, which is expected to rise to 7.5 million by 2035. Its public transport plans are the most advanced with the first works starting on the six-line metro.
"We originally planned two metro lines and a bus rapid transit (BRT) network, but we changed four of the BRT lines to metro," Mr Tariq Al-Faris, vice-president for programs and projects with Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA), told IRJ. Nevertheless, there will still be four BRT lines totalling 96km plus more than 1000km of circular, arterial and feeder bus routes to complement the 176.6km metro network.
"The six metro lines are being built along the corridors with the most demand," Mr Fahad Al-alshaikh, industrial engineer, transportation planning department with ADA, explains. "Stations will have 70m long platforms from the start to allow us to operate longer trains in the future." BRT was chosen for the corridors where there was less certainty about future demand, but there will be the option to convert to light rail or even metro if traffic increases substantially.
The extensive bus network is necessary in Riyadh because people are only willing to walk short distances in the intense summer heat. One of the benefits of the whole project is that measures will taken along the metro and BRT corridors to make walking easier and provide a pleasant environment - the city is a tough place to be a pedestrian, with poorly maintained and badly-designed pavements.
There will be park-and-ride facilities at 25 metro stations, each with space for between 400 and 600 cars. Consideration is being given to how to encourage motorists to switch to public transport especially as parking is currently free in Riyadh. "We started a pilot project with the traffic police to control parking along the Line 2 corridor," Al-alshaikh says. "There is another pilot project along King Abdullah Road to fine motorists for double parking, but we need a new traffic management system for the city."
The 272km metro and BRT network will be served by a fibre-optic network to operate the system and transmit data. Al-Faris is keen to develop this IT platform to create what he describes as a smart city concept. "Riyadh already has a good IT system, but we could go beyond this to the next level," Al-Faris explains.
Strenuous efforts will be made to minimise disruption during construction of the metro. "Eight tunnel boring machines will be at work in Riyadh, and this is where we will concentrate traffic management measures to reduce the impact of the work," Al-Faris says. "It will be a very big challenge to complete the metro on time, but there is a lot of support for it." The first phase of the bus network is due to open in August 2016 followed by the first section of the metro in October 2018.
Plans for Jeddah's public transport encompass three metro lines totalling 152km with 72 stations, a 48km light rail line with 48 stations running along the waterfront, a 93km commuter rail line partly encircling the city, a system of ferries, and a 750km bus network.
Mr Ibrahim Kutubkhana, CEO of Jeddah Metro, says he has been mandated to complete the metro by 2020. Design work is well underway and construction is expected to start next year.
There will be two major items of civil engineering on the metro: the 2km Obhour bridge and Al-Muntalaq station which will interchange with the Haramain high-speed line. Obhour bridge will have a main span of 200m to cross Obhour creek which is 360m wide. It will be 74m wide and 51m high. Al-Muntalaq will be a major interchange station and will have offices, nearly 40,000m2 of retail space, a hotel, post office and medical centre.
Mecca already has one metro line which opened in 2010 to provide very high capacity shuttles between some of the main holy sites. Now a comprehensive public transport network is planned comprising four metro lines, six BRT lines, plus express and feeder buses. The project will be implemented in three phases over 10 years with a budget of Riyals 62bn.
The tender process for Phase 1, which will comprise two metro lines totalling 44km, is underway and 10 consortia have been shortlisted for civil works contracts. The first line will be 11km long with seven stations and will run mostly underground. It will link the Jamrat region in Mina with the northern side of the Grand Mosque, the Haramain high-speed station in Rusaifa, and the Mecca-Jeddah Expressway.
The second line will be partially underground and will be 33km long with 15 stations. It will start in Madinah Road north of Taneem Mosque, then run south along the western side of the Grand Mosque, and via King Abdulaziz Towers, Azizia Street and Taif-Karr Road to Umm Al-Qura University.
Construction is expected to start soon, and it will take around three years to build the two lines. Phases 2 and 3 would extend these lines and add a fourth line.
With Medina and Dammam also drawing up plans for transport networks, within a few years Saudi cities will be transformed with very modern systems using the latest technology.