With the launch of Qatar Railways Development Company (QRDC) in late November 2009, Doha is moving forward with its plans to develop an integrated national rail network.

The new company is a 51:49 joint venture between Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company and the international arm of German rail oper-ator, Deutsche Bahn (DB).

Qatar is planning to invest $25bn in the proposed network. Of this, the infrastructure costs will account for some $20.3bn and an estimated $1m will be set aside to cover planning costs. Qatari Diar says it will build the network in successive phases over the next 15 years.

DB International signed a memorandum of understanding with the Qatari authorities in summer 2008, signalling its willingness to proceed with the project. The launch of QRDC moves Qatar’s rail ambitions from a statement of intent into the first stages of development. It is formally charged with planning and delivering the country’s integrated rail strategy.

Key facts

$25bn – Investment in integrated transport plan

651 kilometres – Total length of track required under plans

98 – Number of stations to be built

11 million tonnes – Expected freight capacity of network

7,000 – Number of jobs to be created

Sources: MEED; QRDC

The proposed strategy is five-pronged. It will comprise a metropolitan railway system in the capital, the Doha Metro Network; high-speed rail links between New Doha International airport, Doha city centre and across the planned causeway into Bahrain; and a countrywide inter-city rail network including freight and passenger connections between Doha and the industrial areas of Ras Laffan and Mesaieed. There will also be light rail networks to reduce commuting times between the city centre and new property and business hubs at Lusail, Education City and West Bay, and freight connections between Qatar and neighbouring Bahrain and Saudi Arabia that will eventually link into the planned GCC-wide rail network.

The project comprises 651 kilometres of track and 98 rail, light rail and metro stations. The Doha Metro alone will account for some 300km of track. High-speed trains able to travel at up to 220km an hour will deliver travellers from the main long-distance stations of central Doha, Education City and New Doha International airport to Bahrain within an hour and a half. Qatari Diar estimates the rail project will create about 7,000 jobs. German consultant Planung Transport Verkehr worked with DB International to develop the master plans.

DB International has appointed UK law firm Denton Wilde Sapte as legal advisers to the project and over the coming weeks is expected to dispatch a team of about 50 people to Qatar to provide core staff for QRDC. DB Internat-ional declined to comment on reports that it will appoint the new company’s chief exec-utive officer and two of its four managing directors for four-year terms.

It also declined to comment on forthcoming tender schedules and procedures. However, sources in Germany predict that DB International’s involvement in the project will open doors in Qatar for other German suppliers. It is widely expected, for example, that Germany’s Siemens will bid to build the network’s rolling stock – a contract that could be worth about $2.9bn, according to Numov, the Berlin-based German Near and Middle East Association.

Qatar’s railways will carry both passengers and freight. Improvements to ports and airport are expected to bring a steep increase in demand for freight capacity: Qatar’s total imports by air, sea and road currently stand at about 36 million tonnes a year. But that figure is set to grow on the back of Doha’s long-term plans to build a deepwater port at Mesaieed, where cargo capacity will rise to between 6 and 10 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) as a result.

Qatari Diar says the proposed rail network will carry some 11 million tonnes of freight a year between 30 dedicated freight railheads, speeding up the transfer of goods between the key industrial and population centres of Ras Laffan, Dukhan, Doha and Mesaieed.

Competitive transportation

Rail transport offers a cleaner, more environmentally friendly alternative to trucking, the dominant mode of transport for Qatar’s domestic and regional cargo movements.

Qatari Diar expects the railway to compete on both speed and price: the cost of delivering a 40-foot container by sea and rail from Dubai to Doha will be from QR700-1,000 at current prices, competing favourably against the current QR1,000 cost of transporting a 20-foot container by truck.

It currently takes between three days and a week to truck goods from Dubai to Doha, and the rail network will cut journey times between the two cities to a matter of hours.

But, when it comes to passenger transport, Qatari Diar will have to challenge the widely held perception in the Gulf that travelling on public transport is only for the poor. Passenger trains on the network will probably be divided into first class, family/women class and standard class carriages to address the country’s socio-cultural and economic requirements.

Qatari Diar says this investment is developing a rail network that is critical to the country’s ability to cope with anticipated population growth. Qatar Statistics Authority has projected that the country’s population will grow to 2.5 million by 2030, up from 1.6 million today. With this in mind, Qatari Diar argues that increased rail transport is vital to  combat worsening urban road congestion.

The proposed four urban rail routes, named the Coastal, Historical, City and Education lines, will comprise 98 stations and accelerate commuting times. For example, the light rail network aims to deliver passengers from West Bay to downtown Doha in eight minutes and to the new airport in 22 minutes.

Partners needed

Constructing an integrated rail network will be neither cheap nor straightforward. The inner-city rail system will need to run in tunnels between 11 and 40 metres wide, buried 20-40 metres underground.

QRDC has already carried out initial studies, agreed the concept designs for its integrated rail systems and presented its proposals to the emir. Now work is under way to plan and co-ordinate the project and to finalise the designs. QRDC will need additional construction contracting partners to deliver the project and is expected to open the tender process this year.

“Qatari Diar also needs to challenge the widely held perception that travel on public transport is only for the poor”

The schedule for the rail project also needs to mesh with other major Qatari projects. The New Doha International airport will open in 2011, while the new city at Lusail is expected to be completed by 2014, the same year that the planned Friendship Causeway between Qatar and Bahrain is due to open. The first phase of the network to be developed will be the long-distance passenger line between New Doha International airport and Bahrain and the freight line linking Mesaieed to Ras Laffan via Doha. This initial stage should be completed by 2014. Next will come a rail spur connecting Qatar’s network to that of Saudi Arabia, linking up with the proposed GCC-wide network, and the coastal passenger line. Both are scheduled to be completed by 2016. The remaining elements will be added sequentially until 2026.

With QRDC established, the devil now is in the detail. Top-level meetings were under way in Doha as MEED went to press. Among the topics to be debated are the final designs for the project, the technical consultations and – perhaps most crucially of all – how to structure the venture financially.

“There is still a lot of work to do,” says Leigh Hall, managing partner at Denton Wilde Sapte, which is acting as legal adviser to QRDC. “Since the joint venture agreement was signed in November 2009, there has been a series of meetings to talk about the final designs. Talks continue on how the project will be structured.

“It is complicated, because we are talking about several projects rolled into one, proceeding in ph ases. The start of construction is still some way off. We are probably looking at six months to a year of intensive discussions.”