Abu Dhabi progresses with key transport projects

17 December 2013

Consortiums are queueing up to win work on major transport schemes in the UAE capital, drawn by the promise of increased public investment and the strong pipeline for contract awards

After several setbacks and budget cuts in recent years, Abu Dhabi’s plans to build much-needed roads and public transport networks are beginning to move forward once again.

Over the next 12 months, a series of tenders and contract awards for projects such as the planned metro and light rail system, the overland Etihad Railway and the Mafraq-Ghweifat road are expected.

The way in which these schemes will be managed is also set to change. UK-based consultancy Arup started work in October for the emirate’s Urban Planning Council on updating the transport masterplan for Abu Dhabi city and the surrounding areas. The three-month study will revise existing plans and aims to ensure a more efficient delivery of new projects.

Super client

There are also plans afoot to move the management of construction projects, including some transport-related ones, under the control of Abu Dhabi General Services Company (Musanada), which will act as a form of super client to improve the procurement process for these developments.

With the emirate having often faced criticism for delays on its infrastructure schemes, many will be hopeful that the latest changes herald a fresh beginning.

In terms of the value of transport contracts awarded in Abu Dhabi, the past 12 months have been relatively quiet. According to regional projects tracker MEED Projects, just $897m of deals have been signed in 2013 to date, compared with $3.2bn in the previous year. The AED10.6bn ($2.9bn) contract for Abu Dhabi International airport’s Midfield Terminal bolstered the total value of contracts in 2012.

We are looking seriously at Abu Dhabi’s metro and light rail plans; we are very interested in [these projects]

Joerg Scheifler, Siemens

However, the current pipeline for contract awards looks strong, with about $5.7bn of transport-related projects in the pre-contract or study phase. This suggests Abu Dhabi is once again ramping up investment in transport infrastructure, following its decision to cut its budget in 2011. The emirate had intended to spend $68bn on developing its urban infrastructure with the Surface Transport Masterplan (STMP), a strategy first announced back in 2009. But two years later, the impact of the global financial crisis hit Abu Dhabi, causing a slump in property prices and a need to rein in spending.

While work on two STMP schemes, the new Khalifa Port and the Etihad Railway, which were already under way, continued, other plans had to be postponed. In total, the stalled projects amounted to about $17.6bn, some 25 per cent of the original budget.

With the transport masterplan now under review again, the emirate will have to take into account how fundamental aspects of its economy have altered since 2007. For instance, the first Abu Dhabi 2030 masterplan, published in 2007, assumed the capital’s population would reach 3.1 million. As Arup revises the plan, it will have to consider whether these figures are realistic or not.

Work has already been resurrected on certain transport schemes ahead of the completion of the revised masterplan. It is the plans for Abu Dhabi’s metro and light rail system that seem to be attracting the most attention in the emirate’s construction sector. In November, companies began to form consortiums to bid on the projects.

A total of six consortiums or firms have been shortlisted [for the Mafraq-Ghweifat road project]

“After our success in winning a Riyadh Metro [deal] earlier this year, we are looking seriously at Abu Dhabi’s metro and light rail plans; we are very interested in [these projects],” says Joerg Scheifler, chief executive officer (CEO) for infrastructure and cities, Middle East, at Germany’s Siemens. The firm is just one of many companies eagerly awaiting the completion of the prequalification process, expected to be finished by the end of the year.

Huge interest

Earlier in the year, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Transport (DoT) held two industry meetings, on 30 April and 1 May, to discuss the schemes and following that, more than 400 companies submitted expressions of interest in the projects.

A variety of international and local firms including France’s Alstom, the UAE’s Arabtec Construction, China Railway Corporation and Italy’s Impregilo have expressed interest in the rail schemes. Tenders for various contracts are due to be released next year.

Abu Dhabi transport awards, 2013
ProjectContract value ($m)Awarded to 
Mirfa port: phase 1 4Majestic Marine Engineering 
Abu Dhabi International airport: infrastructure works160Habtoor Leighton Group
Abu Dhabi International airport: Midfield Terminal complex airside construction256Larsen & Toubro
Yas Island: Emirati housing development – infrastructure and road works30Athena Emirates 
Yas Marina 2 162Athena Emirates 
Dualling of Madinat Zayed-Ghayathi road 100Al-Jaber Group 
South Airfield runway rehabilitation 99Lane Mideast Contracting, Drake & Scull International and the National Contracting & Transport Company
Mirfa port: phase 2 4Majestic Marine Engineering 
Al-Ain municipality: private schools road improvement 32Saif Bin Darwish
Yas Island: Zone K infrastructure works50Athena Emirates 
Source: MEED Projects

The urban rail network has two parts. The first includes a single 18-kilometre metro line between Zayed Sports City and the Mina Zayed/central business district area. There will be 17 stations on the line, 13 of which will be elevated.

The second is two light-rail transit (LRT) systems and one bus rapid transport (BRT) system. The first LRT line, called the Blue Line, will run from Marina Mall to Reem Island. It will be 15km long and will have 24 stations. A second LRT line, known as the Green Line, will run for 13km from Karama to Saadiyat Island.

The DoT plans to split the metro project into three separate deals.

A consortium including US-headquartered consultancy firms Aecom and Parsons Brinckerhoff, known as the Adapt group, conducted the feasibility study for the metro, having won the contract in 2010. The same consortium won the phase 2 deal covering the scheme’s study and preliminary design last November.

A joint venture of Spanish firms Sener and Typsa is developing the LRT project, which includes the BRT system.

Etihad Railway

Plans to expand the federal Etihad Railway network are also moving forward, with construction contracts on phase 2 of the scheme due to be awarded imminently.

Speaking at MEED’s Rail & Metro Summit in Abu Dhabi in October, Abdulrahman al-Janahi, senior development manager at Etihad Rail, said the technical evaluation of bids had been completed and the second phase was “almost ready to go”.

Phase 2 of the railway will connect the major ports and cities in the UAE. The 628km line will link Ruwais in Abu Dhabi to Ghweifat on the border with Saudi Arabia.

The first section of phase 1, joining gas fields in Habshan to Ruwais port, is currently being constructed and is due to be partially completed by the end of the year.

Civil and tracks work for phase 1, worth $898m, is being undertaken by a consortium led by Italy’s Saipem. The other members of the group include Tecnimont, also Italian, and the UAE’s Dodsal Engineering & Construction. Al-Janahi added that engineering and design work is now starting on phase 3 of the railway, which will cover a track connecting the network to the northern emirates.

Meanwhile, the construction of a new road linking Mafraq to the border between the UAE and Saudi Arabia at Ghweifat is also being revived.

In September, the DoT announced it would begin construction of the road, stating it had been granted permission to appoint contractors for the AED4.7bn project. A total of six consortiums or companies have been shortlisted for the work. This includes local firms Al-Geemi & Partners Contracting Company, Al-Jaber Transport & General Contracting and Bin Hafeez General Contracting; India’s Larson & Toubro with consortium partner the local Delma Engineering; and the local Tristar Engineering & Construction with consortium partner Salini Construction of Italy.

The final selection of a contractor will come more than three years since the original bids were submitted in 2010. According to the latest Transport Ministry statements, the road project is due to be completed by 2017.

The expansion of Abu Dhabi International airport also appears to be back on track this year, after facing a number of delays.

In June 2012, the deal for the construction of the airport’s new Midfield Terminal building was awarded to a consortium of Arabtec Construction, Turkey’s TAV and Athens-based Consolidated Contractors Company. Building work began just a few months later.

In October this year, Abu Dhabi Airports Company’s (Adac’s) CEO, Tony Douglas pledged that the terminal would be open for passengers by 17 July 2017 at 7am. Douglas confirmed the opening date following the completion of a major milestone for the terminal on 20 October, with the placement of the first buttress for the steel arches that will support the facility’s roof. 

The Midfield Terminal is a vital project in Abu Dhabi’s transport strategy as it will support the continued growth of the emirate’s flag carrier Etihad Airways.

Improving connectivity

With the capacity of the new terminal set to reach 30 million passengers, the increasingly busy airport will put pressure on other components of the emirate’s transport system, as passengers travel between the airport and hotels and conference centres, or on to other airports.

With that in mind, the Midfield Terminal has been designed so that it can easily accommodate a connection with the planned metro and light rail network once these are built.

Douglas only joined Adac at the beginning of the year, having previously worked on the completion of the New Khalifa port and the new Terminal 5 for Heathrow airport in the UK.

Given the delays both the airport and other Abu Dhabi projects have faced in recent years, it has been important for Adac’s CEO to inject some confidence back into the market.

During a site visit to the Abu Dhabi airport, Douglas said publicly setting construction deadlines is essential for the development of projects.

“Making commitments about milestones is really important [because] as an organisation we will have nowhere to hide [since] everyone is going to see this, and we will either do it or we won’t,” he said. “Failure is unacceptable and not an option.”

The market will be hoping that Douglas’ commitment to deadlines is shared by all those charged with reviving Abu Dhabi’s other construction and transport schemes.

Key fact

About $5.7bn of transport-related projects are currently in the pre-contract or study phase in Abu Dhabi

Source: MEED

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