THE finish line is nearly in sight for Riyadh’s metro project. Construction on the six-line, 176km mega-project got underway in 2014. Almost seven years later, the developers of the $US 27bn metro and integrated bus network are hopeful that the first passengers will board the first trains later this year.

Timetable tests on lines 4 and 6, respective 30km and 13km overground lines, are currently underway. The plan is to hand the lines over to the operator, the Flow consortium, comprising Alstom, Hitachi Rail STS, and Italian State Railways (FS), in the second half of the year. Flow will then simulate network operation ahead of the start of passenger services.

Flow will also operate the 25km entirely underground Line 5 and the 40.7km Line 3, which are running a little further behind. Carousel running is underway on Line 5 although this has not yet reached the point of replicating the entire service.

Operation of lines 1 and 2 is the responsibility of the CamCo joint venture of RATP Dev and Saudi Public Transport Company, which also make up Public Transport Company (PTC), which will operate the bus network. These projects are in the final 10-12% of work, although, like Line 3, rolling stock testing is not yet at the carousel stage.

“We’re just starting dynamic testing but we’re not far behind,” says Mr Carter Rohan, project director for the Riyadh Metro Transit Consultants (RMTC) project management consultancy (PMC). “The primary works that we have left on our plate are related to finishing up some of the civils. We’ve got that mostly all complete. But we’re into the mechanical-electrical phase where we’re testing and commissioning, putting in ventilation and air-conditioning systems. And we’re now focusing on ramping up the signalling, Scada testing, and all the systems related to the role of the rolling stock.”

RMTC is made up of Parsons, Egis and Systra, and is overseeing packages 1 and 2 covering lines 1, 2 and 3. Package 3 of the project comprises the other three lines and is overseen by the Riyadh Advanced Metro Project Execution and Delivery (Ramped) consortium consisting of WSP (formerly Louis Berger) and Hill International (see panel below).

Mr Lindsay Vamplew, project director for Ramped, says that while line testing is taking place, work is continuing to complete the stations, with building systems the last part of this process.

“We are looking for those two lines to go into system demonstration in roughly May and potentially trial running where we hand over to the operator to simulate the network in June or July, with a view to getting those two lines running by the end of the year,” Vamplew says. He adds that system demonstration for Line 5 is expected to take place in September, with handover to the operator likely before the end of 2021.

Getting to this point is no mean feat. The Riyadh metro is after all the largest single-phase metro project underway anywhere in the world. While the Saudi government initially expected to develop the network over a period of 25 years, Riyadh’s swelling population, which is increasing by 3.5% per year and is expected to reach 8.3 million by 2030, and worsening traffic congestion, led to a re-think and the decision to proceed with the metro and bus project in a single phase.

“We’re now focusing on ramping up the signalling, Scada testing, and all the systems related to the role of the rolling stock.”

Mr Carter Rohan, project director for the Riyadh Metro Transit Consultants (RMTC) project management consultancy (PMC)

The project officially got underway in 2013 with construction commencing in February 2014. At its peak in September 2018, more than 60,000 people from 35 different countries were actively working on the programme in Riyadh. The metro project has involved construction of 85km of viaduct, 35km of tunnel using seven TBMs, and 360km of utility diversions. Ultimately, the six automated lines will operate a total of 116 two-car trains and 45 four-car trains, delivered by three different suppliers, that will serve 85 stations.

RMTC and Ramped were tasked with coordinating this work. Upon arrival in the Saudi capital in 2013, Vamplew says the biggest initial challenge was looking at what had been designed and deciding how it was going to be implemented in the middle of a major city without destroying the city’s economy and how it operates on a daily basis.

“We immediately began planning and orchestrating the quality programmes, the safety programmes overall as well as the contractor safety programmes to ensure that the public and Riyadh were safe while we were doing construction,” Rohan says.

Vamplew adds that the client, Royal Commission for Riyadh City (RCRC), was critical in supporting this process by fostering close engagement with various stakeholders so they bought into the project from the very beginning. It also meant that as changes were made, or work got underway on a specific section, they were able to respond accordingly.

“The great part is that RCRC brought Riyadh to us,” Vamplew says. “They had knowledge of how the city works, and we had the knowledge of how the project works. So, we combined that for the betterment of the project but also to reduce the disruption to the city while getting cooperation from the utility owners and the police to enable us to move forward.”

From day one of the project, Rohan and Vamplew were keen to foster a sense of close cooperation rather than competition between the two PMCs and their various contractors. And as they approach completion, this is a mantra they both feel served them well throughout.

“The great part is that RCRC brought Riyadh to us. They had knowledge of how the city works, and we had the knowledge of how the project works.”

Mr Lindsay Vamplew, project director for Ramped

For example, Rohan says the packages that were put out to the separate design-build consortia (DB), which were three separate contracts, all had the same general, design and quality requirements. And while the tendency for contractors might be to go their own way to meet their own deadlines - particularly when dealing with contracts that are worth billions of dollars - the PMCs worked together to make sure that the work of each DB was coordinated.

“When Lindsay and I were preparing the project management manual, the PMP plans, we addressed how we would fully coordinate and collaborate at every stage of the work,” Rohan says. “There have been meetings and workshops with the DBs where discussions would involve all sides as we progressed through the different stages of the work. I think that helped to drive it in the right direction.”

Vamplew says this close collaboration extended to the logistics of moving people, materials and debris to and from sites in order to minimise disruption. Ramped and RMTC again got together to agree joint routes and sites for material disposal, which meant that when they went to negotiate with utility providers, the police and various other bodies, it was as a single project, not individual elements, which provided the whole picture of what was happening in the city.

System integration

While initially work focused on the civil engineering elements such as the tunnelling, piling and building of viaducts, work gradually transitioned to systems integration. Rohan and Vamplew say the culture of close collaboration they built in the early stages of the project again proved crucial as this transition took place. While there were inevitably some challenges - particularly with regards to getting a civil works organisation to work to the same standards as a systems integrator - Vamplew says this didn’t hurt the project and its delivery of the high-quality standards required.

“We had the systems teams onboard from day one,” Vamplew says. “The systems lead worked with us, so it was a natural evolution to move into systems; the systems people understood what the civils people were doing, and they understood what the track people were doing. It all blended itself together.”

“Within my own contract and the two packages that I was overseeing, the phasing of the design, and the timing of the installations was paced off from each other,” Rohan says. “Lindsay’s was also another pace while we brought the systems - the signalling, the Scada, the platform screen doors - in at different phases. And because they didn’t all happen at once, there was no abrupt change. So, the cultural change from civils to systems didn’t happen.”

Team building

The two PMCs also worked closely together as they built the teams necessary to develop the project.

In a country with no previous experience of metro construction, it was necessary to import high-level technical expertise to deliver what was required. In 2013, competition for top talent was hot in the Middle East as other cities in the region developed their own transit networks. But with years of industry experience, and a packed rolodex of contacts, Vamplew and Rohan say they were able to bring in some exceptional people to their respective organisations which enabled them to establish a competent, world-class workforce.

Both leaders also led joint recruitment initiatives and interviews in countries such as India and the Philippines to supplement this initial pool of people. Again, they found that they had to work hard to convince people to come to Saudi Arabia.

Maintenance of Line 3 trains built by Bombardier will take place at the vast Western Depot.

“[Saudi Arabia] wasn’t the first choice for many people that were coming to the Middle East,” Vamplew says. “A lot of people came without their families. We always had people saying, I need to go home to see my family. And at the same time, we were trying to do one of the most demanding jobs in the world. So that was a fine balance that we had to strike with our workforce.”

The project has also served to develop the local workforce. As part of their contracts, both PMCs mentored Saudi graduates and university students. Vamplew says these young engineers have been taken on a journey of developing a complete project, exposing them to an international project and construction management best practice.

“This has allowed them to grow and they are now going off to other parts of the kingdom and doing significant pieces of work for the development of the kingdom,” he says. “That has been a major success for our part and one of the most enjoyable parts of the job as well, watching the young guys come in and grabbing hold of the project with all the enthusiasm they brought.”

Staffing of the metro project reflects a cultural shift in Saudi Arabia in the past seven or eight years as the country has increasingly opened up. Indeed, the situation was very different in 2013 from what it is now, according to Vamplew and Rohan.

This is particularly apparent with regards to female employment. Both Ramped and RMTC with the support of RCRC pioneered the hiring of local female engineers, working hard to create opportunities for women to enter the workplace, which is now becoming more commonplace following a period of wide-ranging reforms and changes. “There are a lot of good female Saudi engineers and we both brought them onboard with the support of RCRC,” Rohan says. “We were ahead of the times.”

Construction challenges

Engineers working on the project were tasked with building a new metro line in the difficult Saudi environment, where temperatures can peak at more than 50°C in the summer. This presented inevitable construction challenges.

Vamplew highlights problems with the concrete lining of the tunnels, which were cracking during installation. Following an investigation, it was found that the temperature was too high to leave the concrete to cure outside - the outside of blocks was drying very quickly in the intense heat, but the inside of the lining remained wet, stressing the concrete block resulting in cracks when it was lifted. “We overcame this by simply putting a wet cloth on top of the concrete so it didn’t ever dry out,” Vamplew says. “With the outside remaining damp, this balanced the stresses out throughout the block during curing, solving the problem.”

Vamplew reports that overall tunnelling proceeded extremely well. So well, in fact, that TBMs reached some stations before the station box was excavated, leading the developers to choose to proceed with tunnelling and to excavate the box around the tunnel.

“That caused a problem in that we had to keep a constant load on some of the segments to prevent failure,” he says. “We developed a method where we were able to strengthen the actual tunnel where we were doing the box excavation and a method of keeping the loads constant across the box. It proved so successful for us that we passed it onto our colleagues at BACs who took up the same opportunity.”

Many of these underground station boxes were designed for insertion in the junction of roads. Vamplew says that due to the potential disruption to busy thoroughfares, the designs were tweaked to take the station box away from the road junction in order to allow construction to proceed with minimal disruption. “These were underground stations, so the public doesn’t know where the station is located; what they are interested in is where the entrances of those stations are,” Vamplew says.

Rohan reports challenges with launching TBMs in tight and congested spaces in the city, and also preserving existing structures as construction took place, including the Red Palace and some of Riyadh’s tallest buildings along Olaya Street. There were also challenges with the structures of the station buildings (see panel below). However, he says the challenge the team is most proud of overcoming was the relocation of one of Riyadh’s largest water mains on the east side of the city.

This image from February 2019 shows the steel web structure which is the foundation
of KAFD’s exterior façade and proved particularly challenging to contractors working on
the station.

The 152cm potable water main, which supplies 25% of the city, crossed the path of Line 2 at an underpass in a very congested area. Relocation was deemed necessary but was estimated to take 15 to 20 days to complete, far in excess of the 10-day capacity of back-up storage tanks provided by water company, SWCC.

Rohan reports that analysis of the situation found that time could be saved by implementing several measures: adjusting the design of the diversion and connection points to be located 25m away from the original congested location to improve the working area; prefabrication of elements such as rebar cages, connection collars and thrust blocks so all preliminary work was done prior to the shutdown; installation of a diversionary pipe while the existing watermain remained in service; the design and use of a catchment basin to collect relief water; and after testing, enabling backfilling to begin as the final testing is performed and the pipe is energised, a step which Rohan says was not normal practice and was a little risky.

“After the prep work was done and the diversion pipe was in place, we began the connection work with the diversion teams working around the clock,” he says. “We were very successful, completing the work in six days with no disruption to the public water supply.”

Inevitably the project offers a multitude of lessons learned and countless best practices, which Vamplew and Rohan say are being recorded as part of the PMCs contracts so they can feed into future schemes both in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere around the world.

However, Rohan says he can narrow down the core lessons to two elements. One is client commitment. He says this has not shifted from day one of the project, which is not always the case on other programmes on which he has worked where the client might move onto other projects. “He’s fully engaged and that is a huge component of the end result of our success,” he says.

The other is collaboration. “I’ve worked with other PMCs on other rail programmes, other projects where the PMCs acted independently, and there were so many problems that develop just because of the lack of coordination and collaboration,” Rohan says.

For experienced metro and railway developers, coming to Riyadh was a challenge because of the scale of work that was required. Vamplew says he was keen to test himself on the biggest stage in a culture and country he didn’t know, and while initially “frightening,” he says he was able to adapt. “What you find is that a lot of the skills you have developed over your career are still applicable, it’s just that you’re applying it to a massive job,” Vamplew says.

Likewise, Rohan says understanding and becoming comfortable with the culture in which you are working helps to deliver whatever project you are working on, even this one, which is “100-times larger than any normal project.”

Certainly, as the finishing touches are made to the vast network, it already looks like a job well done.

Riyadh Metro project management structure

THE Riyadh metro project is divided into three packages of construction, with RMTC overseeing packages one and two, and Ramped package three.

Package 1 comprises lines 1 and 2, respective 39km north-south and 30km east-west lines, and is a $US 10.1bn scheme of work. It is being delivered by the Bacs consortium of Bechtel, Almabani, Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC) and Siemens. Siemens is supplying 45 75.7m-long four-car trains for Line 1, the only four-car trains for the network, and 29 two-car trains for Line 2.

Package 2 is for the $US 6.4bn 40.7km Line 3. The ANM consortium is delivering the project and comprises WeBuild (formerly Salini Impregilo), Larsen & Toubro, and Nemsa together with Bombardier, which is supplying 47 two-car trains. Hitachi STS’ share of the contract is worth $US 680m, and covers automatic train control (ATC), CBTC, power supply including third-rail electrification, the operational control centre, telecommunications, and fitting out depots. There is also an option for 10 years’ maintenance.

Package 3 comprises lines 4, 5 and 6, which have a total cost of $US 7.9bn and are being delivered by the Fast consortium of FCC, Samsung, Strukton, Freyssinet and Alstom. Alstom’s share of the contract is $US 1.6bn, and it is supplying 69 two-car Metropolis trains, as well as CBTC, its Hesop energy recovery system, and its Appitrack tracklaying system.

Iconic stations set to become new Riyadh landmarks

THE ambition of Riyadh’s metro is evident not only in the scale of the network, but also in many of its main stations, which are designed to become landmarks in their own right.

KAFD station, which is nestled between the high-rise buildings in the King Abdullah Financial District, features a striking exterior web design. Likewise, STC Station is designed to resemble a stone crafted by the wind and elements, rising out of the landscape.

Delivering the vision of the architects, Zahid Hadid Architects, which developed KAFD, and Gerber Arkitechten, which designed STC Station, was no mean feat. As Mr Sebastian Feldmann, project manager, main stations (Package 1) at Systra, explains, completing the projects required a number of techniques that have not yet become industry standard.

Before contractors could proceed with KAFD’s façade, it was necessary to construct the viaduct carrying the metro line, which is entirely insulated from the steel exterior to eliminate any impact from vibrations from the railway. The 30m-high façade is 200m long and 50m wide, covering the 24,000m² facade area.

“It’s completely organic, there’s not one 90° angle,” Feldmann says. “It’s all round tubes bended and welded to create this envelope.” The building was digitally designed in 3D using Building Information Modelling (BIM), from which the measurements of each component were taken. However, the builders had to take into account the expansion of the 5cm-think steel under the extreme heat in Riyadh, which can exceed 50°C in the shade.

Following construction of the steel structure, work began to install the windows, waterproofing and, finally, 6500 ultra-high-performance concrete (UHPC) panels, a technique that has only ever been used previously on the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum.

The weight of the 6500 UHPC panels on the steel structure had to be taken into account as installation took place. Work occurred concurrently on both sides of the structure in order to allow it to settle evenly. Overall, the weight caused the top of the structure to drop by 340mm into its final position.

As opposed to the above-ground KAFD station, STC Station sits above two lines running 10m and 30m underground, respectively, passing each other at a 90° angle.

Feldmann says the biggest challenge was preventing ground water from causing the station to uplift, which was solved with a 3m-thick concrete foundation. As with the concrete for the KAFD station, this had to be manged in the extreme heat to prevent cracks or shrinking. “In Europe you don’t want any chemicals in the concrete but here it’s a must,” he says.

Much of the station equipment including generators, chillers, air supply, tunnel ventilation equipment, transformers, and electrical boards are hidden in the roof behind a roof membrane, which caused further challenges with the construction sequence. The architects also opted to install shafts rising to the roof in order to extract the air from the tunnel, as opposed to using glass tubes, in keeping with the stony appearance of the station.

KAFD is expected to serve 14,500 passengers during the morning peak, dropping to 12,000 for the evening peak, while STC Station is expected to serve 11,000 passengers per day.

IRJ Editor-in-Chief Kevin Smith speaks with Carter Rohan, project director for the Riyadh Metro Transit Consultants (RMTC) project management consultancy (PMC), and Lindsay Vamplew, project director for the Riyadh Advanced Metro Project Execution and Delivery (RAMPED) PMC, which have overseen delivery of the world’s largest single-phase metro project. To listen to the podcast click here