Qatar Railways Company aims to ease congestion by developing a country-wide transport network
Date established 2011
Main business sector Rail
Main business region Qatar
Chief executive officer Saad Ahmed al-Mohannadi
Telephone (+974) 4 497 7886
$35bn: Cost of planned integrated rail programme
651km: Length of freight and passenger rail network
$2.2bn: Cost of West Bay people-mover project
km=kilometres. Source: MEED
Qatar Railways Company (QRail) was founded in 2011 to support and coordinate the growth of Qatar’s rail industry. It is fully owned by the Qatar Railways Development Company (QRDC), which is a joint venture created in 2009 between Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn. QRDC remains the overall developer of the Qatar Integrated Rail Programme and is planning to complete several rail projects by 2022, when the country will host the Fifa World Cup. QRail is tasked with implementing the plans.
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The chief executive officer of QRail is Saad Ahmed al-Mohannadi. He took up the position in July 2011, a month after Qatar issued an Emiri decree to set up the Qatar National Railway Committee to supervise the development and implementation of the railway programme. Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jaber al-Thani is chairman of the committee and QRail implements its recommendations.
QRail will study and prepare the technical specifications of the railway projects and will be responsible for issuing tenders for the contracts. It will sign deals to develop the projects and oversee their implementation. The railway committee will operate and manage the railways and will also be responsible for the maintenance, safety and security of the projects. It will fix service charges and maintain the railways.
The establishment of a rail network will make it far easier and faster to travel around the Qatar peninsula. At present, road is the sole means of getting around the country and the road network is severely underdeveloped, meaning that congestion is a major problem on principal arteries. During peak hours, trucks are banned in the capital Doha.
QRail’s mission is clear: it will plan, design and implement Qatar’s $35bn integrated rail programme. Projects in the programme include the $2.2bn West Bay people-mover, the Doha metro, a freight line linking the country’s east coast ports with Doha, a high-speed passenger line and light railways in the Lusail City and Education City developments.
The freight and passenger rail network will span 651 kilometres when complete and will be served by 98 stations. The high-speed passenger line will run at up to 220 kilometres an hour from New Doha International Airport (NDIA), through Doha city and on to Ras Ashairij in the northwest of the peninsula – the start of the proposed Qatar-Bahrain Causeway.
The 340km freight railway will run from the industrial city of Ras Laffan in the northeast to the New Doha port at Mesaieed in the southeast. The railway will also have a spur that runs to the gas processing facilities in Dukhan in the west. When complete, it will have the capacity to transport 11 million tonnes of cargo a year.
The 300km Doha metro will consist of four lines – Red, Gold, Green and Blue – and will have 80 stations. The Red line will be the first to be developed and will run from NDIA to West Bay in central Doha.
Qatar’s rail network must be built well before the 2022 World Cup commences, to enable adequate trial operations. With just 10 years remaining, Doha cannot afford to fall into its usual habits of lengthy tender processes and slow progress on projects, and there are several obstacles that the country needs to overcome to develop its transport infrastructure.
Financing is unlikely to present the same challenges that most other countries are facing. Rising liquefied natural gas exports and high oil prices are set to continue delivering Qatar huge budget surpluses for the foreseeable future.
The main challenge will be mitigating the impacts of Qatar’s harsh climate on the rail network. The designers will have to contend with sand accumulation on the tracks, high temperatures and humidity. They will also have to factor in camel crossings. Railway lines will have to be cleared of sand frequently and this will require a lot of staff, equipment and maintenance. Qatar has already decided to prevent the build-up of sand by elevating sections of some of its projects.
The Doha metro, much of which will run underground, faces different problems. Building underground means that the lines can avoid roads and utilities, but the nature of the land in Qatar, with its unpredictable karstic limestone, could pose a challenge.
The other GCC member states are also currently planning or developing their own railway networks, which will include passenger lines, freight lines and metro and tram projects.
Saudi Arabia already has a railway, but the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar are all developing an entirely new industry from scratch. But it is arguably Qatar that has the most work to do. At $35bn, its network will be the most expensive to implement. More importantly, it has a very slim time frame in which to plan, design and build its various rail projects. Qatar’s railway network will eventually form part of the wider GCC network.
The GCC railway project will be 2,200km-long and will run from Kuwait to Muscat. It will be single-track for dual use, accommodating both passengers and freight. The second phase of the railway is likely to see a line running on to Yemen.
It was always going to be a challenge to build six national rail networks simultaneously. Although it is unlikely that the GCC railway will be up and running by 2017 as planned, due to slow progress in Oman and Bahrain, the project is moving ahead. To date, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have made the most progress in developing their plans. But with its looming deadline, Qatar will now be racing to catch up.
Transport in Qatar
One major setback for Qatar’s transport network continues to be the lack of progress on the $3bn Qatar-Bahrain Causeway, also known as the Friendship Bridge. Put on hold in June 2010, the project has failed to advance since then, despite having featured prominently in the 2022 World Cup bid Qatar submitted to Fifa. It is estimated that about 10 per cent of total visitors to the World Cup would travel from Bahrain across the causeway if it were completed in time.
Officials maintain that the project is still part of the plan and in October 2011, Qatar’s Shura Council approved a $350m loan to Bahrain to finance the causeway.
The original timeline was for early works involving site preparation and the construction of a camp to house construction workers to begin in the first quarter of 2010. The causeway was initially designed as a road project, but the client, the Qatar and Bahrain Causeway Foundation, added a railway to its plans in late 2009 as part of the wider GCC rail network.
The bridge will include a four-lane road crossing, which is scheduled for completion in 2013, and two railway lines, due by 2015, under the new plans.
It is worth noting that the delivery of the World Cup event is not the end point for Qatar’s rail plans. Its population in the past two years has grown rapidly. In 2008, the population was estimated at 1.5 million. Today, it totals more than 1.8 million (including expatriates) and more than 85 per cent live within 20 kilometres of Doha. By 2030, the population is expected to be about 3.2 million.
In the longer term, Qatar’s rail network will form part of the proposed GCC railway network. The interest from international firms in Qatar’s rail programme is enormous. The first part of the network to be developed will be the civil works package for the Fifa 2022 Priority Phase 1 works, which covers the Doha metro.
An unprecedented 280 companies requested the expression of interest (EoI) documents in September and of these 50-60 firms submitted EoIs for the elevated and underground works. About 20 other companies submitted EoIs for the enabling works. Most firms have organised themselves into consortiums. However, QRail expects to change its strategy for distributing packages between the consortiums, as a result of the high level of interest in the projects.
A total of nine civil works packages are due to be tendered, covering enabling works, underground utilities and station pits for three main stations. Six of the nine are urgent underground packages. The bulk of the civil works will be carried out under design-and-build contracts. The tenders for the civil works packages are expected to move forward by the end of the first quarter of 2012.
In late January, QRail invited companies to submit bids by 20 February for the contract to provide project management consultancy (PMC) for the Doha metro. The PMC covers the entire metro and each line will also have its own PMC.
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