Transport remains high on the agenda

29 December 2013

After a record year of contract awards in 2013, the sector will continue to be a key area of investment

Investment in transport will remain a key priority for governments in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region in 2014.

Factors fuelling spending range from a need to diversify economies away from a reliance on oil and gas to helping build regional trade and tourism.

Specific events on the horizon will also spur investment. Dubai’s recent Expo 2020 win will ramp up development, with plans to expand the existing metro. Similarly, Qatar will be working to improve transport links ahead of the football World Cup in 2022.

Project boom

Contract awards on metros dominated the transport sector in 2013 and interest in rail is unlikely to wane during 2014, with more metro and overland contracts due to be tendered and awarded.

The Middle East aviation industry will continue to be led by the Gulf countries. Airports will be expanded to provide capacity for the anticipated increase in people visiting or transiting through the region. The big three Gulf airlines are targeting growth, having signed billions of dollars of aircraft purchase deals with Boeing and Airbus at Dubai’s airshow in November 2013.

Similarly, ports across the GCC are in expansion mode as countries look to become major shipping hubs. They are also under pressure to increase capacity to meet the needs of the new megaships being launched by global shipping companies.

In 2013, approximately $55.9bn-worth of transport-related contracts, including road projects, were awarded in the Mena region, according to regional projects tracker MEED Projects. This compares with $30.4bn in 2012. The $22.5bn Riyadh Metro was the landmark project of 2013, boosting the overall deal volume.

A single project the size of the Riyadh Metro may not be awarded in 2014, but the momentum behind the Middle East’s transport projects is set to continue, making it a lucrative sector.

During the course of 2013, more than $36bn-worth of rail contracts were awarded, marking a turning point for the industry. Regional ambitions to build metros and overground railways are now finally becoming a reality.

The success of the Riyadh Metro has set an example to other Saudi cities keen to develop their own metro and light rail projects, and over the next 12 months, significant progress on metro schemes in Jeddah, Mecca, Medina and Dammam is expected.

Contractors have already been invited to prequalify for work on phase 1 of Mecca’s metro system. Bids should be submitted in early January, with construction contracts tendered later in the year. The metro is being built to meet the anticipated growth in religious tourists visiting the holy city during the Muslim pilgrimages of Hajj and Umrah.

Jeddah was preparing to tender the pre-project management office (pre-PMO) contract for its metro at the end of 2013. The winner of this deal will work closely with the Jeddah Metro Company on future tenders and the evaluation of consultants.

The prequalification process for the main construction contracts is expected to begin in early 2014, with tenders released towards the end of that year. Approximately SR45bn ($12bn) has been budgeted for the Jeddah public transport plans following a Royal Decree issued in March, although it is likely that this budget will need to be increased.

Saudi schemes

Damman is also developing a public transport system and, during 2014, the Dutch firm Royal Haskoning will be working on a feasibility and preliminary design study for a light rail network.

Medina, meanwhile, will develop a new metro, with a joint-venture of Lebanon’s Khatib & Alami and Turkey’s Istanbul Ulasim working on a consultancy contract covering the feasibility study and preliminary design.

Elsewhere in the GCC, enthusiasm for metro projects is also gathering pace. By mid-2014, Abu Dhabi is expected to tender construction contracts for a new light rail and metro network. The prequalification process was due to start in the fourth quarter of 2013. Hundreds of companies expressed interest and have spent the final months of the year forming consortiums to bid for work.

Qatar had a busy 2013, with QR30bn ($8.2bn)-worth of contracts awarded for the Doha Metro, covering the Red and Green lines and the station packages.

The coming 12 months will see further contracts signed, with the market waiting for the official winner of the Gold Line to be announced and contracts for the elevated sections of the Red, Green and Gold lines expected to be awarded.

Having won the Expo 2020 bid, it is likely Dubai will ramp up plans to extend its existing metro system, including an extension of the Red Line to the new Al-Maktoum International airport at Dubai World Central near Jebel Ali. The emirate’s new Al-Sufouh tram is also expected to be completed and operational before the end of 2014.

The year ahead will also see progress on the region’s overland railway projects. Oman revived its rail plans in 2013, having appointed a preliminary design consultant mid-way through the year, and is currently reviewing bids for a project manager.

Oman Rail Company is being formed to oversee the further development of the project, including the tendering of the construction contracts.

Qatar retendered a design consultancy contract for its national railway, covering the design of the civil infrastructure, mechanical, electrical and plumbing works as well as rolling stock and systems. A decision on the contract award should be made in 2014.

GCC-wide network

Plans to join up the various individual rail networks into one regional network could start to gather pace as well. Towards the end of 2013, a plan to form a GCC Railway Authority to oversee the creation of a regional network was finally approved, after years of discussions. 

A study into setting up the authority is due to be tendered to consultants within the first quarter of 2014. The project is estimated to cost at least $15.5bn and will cover almost 2,200 kilometres of track, connecting all six GCC states.

Compared with the GCC, North Africa saw fewer rail contract awards in 2013. The region already has some rail infrastructure, but due to the impact of regional unrest, development has slowed.

Projects that are likely to progress in the coming year include Morocco’s plans to build a high-speed railway connecting the port town of Tangier to Kenitra. In April 2013, a consortium comprising French firms Colas Rail (and its subsidiary Colas Rail Maroc) and Egis Rail won the E136m ($187m) design and build contract for the high-speed line.

There has also been a lot of investment in tram and metro networks in several North African cities.

Construction of a new elevated metro system in Casablanca is expected to start in 2014, after the Moroccan city’s public transport authority, Casa Transports, awarded France’s Systra the contract for the preliminary design work. The city is also planning to invest in a rapid bus network. Elsewhere in Morocco, the capital city of Rabat is planning to expand its tram network.

Regional [air] traffic grew by 14 per cent in October 2013, the strongest year-on-year growth in the world

Meanwhile, the Middle East’s aviation sector continues to grow from strength to strength, with passenger numbers increasing at record rates. Regional traffic grew by 14 per cent in October 2013, the strongest year-on-year growth in the world, according to data from the International Air Transport Association. This makes it imperative that the region’s airports are upgraded and expanded.

Dubai opened its new Al-Maktoum airport for passenger traffic towards the end of 2013 and the industry will be watching carefully to see how it manages throughput in its first year of operation. It initially offers a passenger capacity of 5 million a year, but will ultimately be able to handle 160 million people by the early 2020s. A masterplan for the expansion of the airport is currently being finalised.

In Abu Dhabi, construction continues on the international airport’s new Midfield Terminal building. Tony Douglas, chief executive officer at Abu Dhabi Airports Company, has pledged it will be open by 17 July 2017.

The long-awaited new Hamad International airport in Qatar should open in 2014, providing much-needed capacity to support the expansion of the country’s flag carrier Qatar Airways.

Port developments

Investment also continues to pour into the region’s port infrastructure. In Dubai, Jebel Ali port will continue to expand, with the winning contractor for the design and build of the causeway, bridge and quay wall to serve the planned Terminal 4 due to be announced in 2014.

Construction work on Terminal 3 is expected to be finished within the year. Once open, the new terminal will add 2 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of capacity to the port. The expansion of Terminal 2 was completed in 2013, providing an additional 1 million TEUs.

By the end of 2014, the port will have a total capacity of 19 million TEUs, while the reclaimed island that will eventually be used for Terminal 4 has the potential to add a further 10 million TEUs.

In Qatar, most of the major contracts on the New Doha Port were awarded in 2013, and construction work will continue over the coming years in order to hit the completion date of 2016.

Oman is also set to continue investment in its ports infrastructure. The transport ministry is expected soon to announce the winning consultancy bid for the upgrade of the general cargo terminal at Salalah port. Seven companies submitted prices in early September 2013. A tender for a northern breakwater was expected to be tendered in 2013, but has not yet been issued. There are also plans to build a new container terminal over the next 12-18 months.

Construction work at Duqm port will continue throughout 2014, in order to ensure the commercial quay is fully operational by 2015. The port had a soft opening in March 2013, when 300 metres of the quay came into operation.

During 2014, all commercial activities at the existing Sultan Qaboos Port in Muscat are planned to be transferred to Sohar Industrial Port, with Muscat becoming a tourism hub mainly handling cruise ships.

Given the wealth of projects being developed, the transport sector is clearly high on government agendas and is set to remain an important driver of the region’s projects industry in the year ahead.


A plan to form a GCC Railway Authority to oversee the creation of a regional network was finally approved in 2013

Source: MEED

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