PERHAPS unsurprisingly for the capital city of the world’s largest oil producing nation, the private car has had a defining impact on the urban landscape of Riyadh. In the early 1950s, when Riyadh was home to just 80,000 people, a new planning policy was adopted which designed new residential areas around a grid system, with wide arterial roads linking these expanding communities to the urban core.

Over following decades the city continued to expand rapidly, with population growth averaging 8.2% between 1974 and 1992. Riyadh’s population rose from 5.4 million in 2010 to 6.5 million in 2016 and is projected to reach 8.3 million in 2030 - the equivalent of 26 new residents per hour.

Riyadh1The High Commission for the Development of Arriyadh has acknowledged that congestion, pollution, and reduced mobility will constrain economic growth unless it takes radical steps to reorganise the transport network and develop a system that works for a much larger city. By 2030, the number of daily car trips is projected to double from 7.4 million to 15 million and the number of hours spent on the city’s roads will climb from 2 million to 4.7 million as the average speed of a journey plummets from 45km/h to 18km/h.

The road network is expanding to meet the challenge of a rising population, with more than 1500km of new roads planned by 2030, but in itself this will not be sufficient to prevent gridlock. The solution is to build a sustainable, attractive, world-class public transport network - and build it quickly.

By 2019 the King Abdulaziz Project for Riyadh Public Transport will create a 176.7km six-line automated metro network at a cost of nearly $US 23bn, together with a 1230km, 24-line bus network, representing a further investment of $US 4bn. This project - billed as a massive strategic investment in the future of Riyadh - aims to boost public transport’s share of journeys in the city from just 2% to around 20%.

In July 2013 Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA) awarded three turnkey design-and-build contracts for the construction of the metro network. By early 2017, this vast undertaking had already reached 50% completion and ADA says it remains on schedule for completion in 2019.

The BACS consortium led by Bechtel, and including Aecom, Saudi company Almabani General Contractors, Middle East-based Consolidated Contractors Company, and Siemens, was awarded Package 1, a $US 9.45bn contract for design, construction, rolling stock, signalling, electrification and integration of lines 1 and 2. As E&M partner in BACS, Siemens is supplying 45 four-car Inspiro driverless trains for Line 1 and 29 two-car trains for Line 2, which are being built at the company’s Simmering plant in Vienna, as well as automatic train control systems and electrification for the two lines.

Package 2 for the construction of Line 3 is worth $US 5.21bn and was awarded to the Arriyadh New Mobility Group, which is led by Salini Impregilo and includes partners Larsen & Toubro (India), Nesma (Saudi Arabia), Ansaldo STS, Bombardier, Idom (Spain) and WorleyParsons (Australia). Ansaldo STS’ share is worth $US 680m and covers automatic train control (ATC), CBTC, power supplies including third-rail electrification, the operational control centre, telecommunications, and fitting out depots. The contract includes an option for 10 years’ maintenance. Bombardier’s share of the contract is worth $US 383m and includes 47 two-car Innova Metro 300 driverless trains, which are being assembled at the company’s plant in Sahagún, Mexico.

In 2015 BACS awarded Larsen & Toubro, India, a $US 161.3m contract to install 62.9km of ballastless track on lines 1 and 2, while Voestalpine is supplying rails and turnouts for the two lines. ThyssenKrupp is supplying 251 elevators and 390 escalators for lines 1 and 2.

A joint venture of Parsons, Egis Rail, and Systra was awarded a €425m contract to supervise construction and provide project management services on lines 1, 2, and 3.

The $US 7.8bn design-and-build contract for lines 4, 5 and 6 was awarded to the FCC-led Fast consortium, which includes Alstom, Samsung, Freyssinet Saudi Arabia, Strukton, Setec and Typsa. The three lines have a total length of 63.8km (29.8km elevated, 26.6km underground, 8.2km at grade) with 26 stations.

Alstom is supplying 69 two-car Metropolis trains, which are being assembled at the company’s plant in Katowice. The company is also supplying its Urbalis communications-based train control (CBTC) system, power supply and its Hesop energy recovery system as part of its e1.2bn contract. Construction supervision services and project management on lines 4, 5, and 6 are the responsibility the Riyadh Advanced Metro Project Execution & Delivery consortium, which comprises Louis Berger and Hill International.

Lloyds Register Rail (now Ricardo Rail) was appointed independent safety assessor for all six lines in autumn 2014. In January 2015 ADA awarded Indra a 54-month contract to supply fare collection systems for the metro network and 1000 buses in a deal that includes 10 years’ maintenance.

A unified rolling stock design has been adopted for the metro and the three suppliers developed exterior and interior designs for the fleet in collaboration with French design bureau Avant Premiere. The design of the trains was inspired by elements of traditional architecture, with interior and exterior colour schemes appropriate to each line.

The metro project includes the construction of 85 stations, including 50 underground, 31 elevated and four at-grade stations. There will be 25 park-and-ride stations and five major interchanges. Seven depots are being built to maintain the rolling stock fleet.

ADA has commissioned leading international architects to develop iconic designs for four major stations, which will help to create a distinctive visual identity for the metro. These include King Abdullah Financial District (designed by Zaha Hadid, Britain), Qasr AlHukm (Snohetta, Norway), Western Station (Omrania, Saudi Arabia) and Olaya (Gerber Architekten, Germany).


Naturally the logistics of construction reflect the huge scale of the project. ADA has more than 1000 staff working on the project, with 30 nationalities speaking 23 languages. More than 43,000 construction workers are employed on the public transport project, directed from various command centres around the city. Construction activity is scheduled by the hour, around the clock, seven days a week.

Infrastructure work includes the excavation of 52km of tunnels using a combination of TBMs, cut-and-cover, and the New Austrian Tunnelling Method. Extensive viaduct construction is also required, and six different construction methods are being used to build the elevated sections of the network, which total 87.4km. On Package 3, the Fast consortium is employing the Full-Span Launching Method (FSLM), the first time this technique has been used in the Middle East. Full-span girders weighing up to 450 tonnes are pre-cast and lifted into a girder carrier, which transports them across the existing spans to a launching gantry, which lifts them into their final position. Fast is installing 256 spans using FSLM.

ADA estimates that by the end of the first quarter of 2017, contractors will have excavated 15 million cubic metres of earth, poured nearly three million cubic metres of concrete, and used more 400,000 tonnes of steel. Utilities diversions alone are a vast undertaking - to date ADA has arranged the relocation of more than 170km of power cables, 43km of water mains, 38km of telecoms lines, 18km of sewage pipes and 26km of irrigation channels. So far, the metro project has involved more than 230 million man hours of work.

ADA says a key challenge has been unifying the various elements of a complicated and multifaceted contract into a focussed and accountable schedule of deliverables. Before groundbreaking in April 2014, extensive discussions were held with all of the consortia to prepare detailed strategies for the implementation of each construction programme.

In addition to its role as project owner, ADA’s responsibilities include facilitating relationships between stakeholders and the organisation manages a wide range of resource issues for the contractors and consultants. ADA’s project office in Oruba employs a matrix system with a ‘one-stop’ work group in direct contact with various stakeholders. Representatives from the Ministry of Transportation, the municipality of Riyadh, the traffic police, and all the various utility companies are seconded to the project offices to enable a rapid and co-ordinated response to any issues.

ADA says adding this extra layer of management over the stakeholders and developing empowered teams across seven organisations has been extremely successful and opened the path to the critical scheduling of construction phases.

With construction underway simultaneously at hundreds of worksites across the city and significant impacts on the city’s road network, mitigating disruption to communities and businesses has been a paramount consideration and ADA says that from the outset it has aimed for ‘total transparency’ in its communications. As well as engaging the public, ADA also sought to encourage the city’s residents to take ownership of the metro project.

The extent of this task reflects the scale and complexity of the metro project and a range of channels including social media and public meetings have been used to establish regular two-way communication with the community. ADA has sought to ensure its call centre phone number is widely known, which enables the escalation of any issues through the organisation’s hierarchy.

ADA is encouraging Riyadh’s population to keep looking ahead to the opening of the network, which will have an immediate impact on mobility in the city. Ridership is forecast to reach 1.16 million passengers per day during the initial phase of operation, ultimately increasing to 3.6 million passengers per day. ADA anticipates the metro and bus network will cut car usage by 803 million journeys per year or 10.9 billion vehicle-km. This is expected to reduce the cost of congestion to Riyadh’s economy by around $US 320m per year. ADA calculates that every $US 1 spent on public transport in the city will generate $US 3.40 in economic returns.

The public transport project will undoubtedly have a transformative impact on mobility in Riyadh, equipping the city for future growth and achieving in the space of just a few years what many cities have strived for over a period of decades. While few cities could realistically afford to build so much so quickly, Riyadh demonstrates a confidence in public transport that others would do well to emulate.