Kuwait's new rail transit system environmentally friendly and efficient

As the infrastructure schemes identified in Kuwait’s 2035 strategic plan are implemented, high-speed international passenger rail journeys from Boubiyan to Dammam and daily metro commutes from suburbs to commercial districts could be a feature of daily life as early as the 2020s. A national rail network has also been designed to connect to other GCC countries and carry freight and passengers around the region, while the Kuwait Metropolitan Rapid Transit (KMRT) system was approved in 2012 in the hope of alleviating urban congestion by offering millions of commuters an environmentally friendly alternative to the roads. Both networks have been mapped out in detail, and Kuwait’s strategic planners consider them vital in the effort to increase productivity and connectivity.

New Kuwait

Kuwait’s railway will form the northernmost section of the GCC railway network, with a 317-km-line running from the Iraq border to Saudi Arabia. An additional 257 km of track will feed into the main line. Subject to satisfactory agreements with Iraq, passengers and freight will be able to pass through the new Silk City and Mubarak Al Kabeer Port into Basra and beyond. The goal is to reduce reliance on road transport, increase trade between the Gulf states and Iraq and to provide jobs for Kuwaiti citizens. The Kuwait National Development Plan, New Kuwait, is a project conceived to transform Kuwait into a financial, cultural and institutional leader, and estimates it will cost KD922m ($31bn) to complete the rail network. In addition to the main railway network, New Kuwait estimates that a metro network for the capital will cost KD3.46bn ($11.5bn) and be capable of carrying 19,000 passengers at rush hour. This will alleviate congestion, reducing air pollution and commuting times. The plan envisions both a subway and suspended metro network. When New Kuwait launched in January 2017, it was anticipated that the railway network would be completed by 2018, and the metro by 2019; however, in June 2018 the New Kuwait website reported that just 28% of the rail project had been completed, along with 11% of the metro scheme. At the time of publishing, neither project had been tendered.

Implementation

In the first quarter of 2018 the National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) reported on Kuwait infrastructure project progress, finding that there were delays with both the railway and metro projects, stemming in part from possible restructuring of government agencies. In FY 2016/17, the responsibility of arranging tenders for the construction of both schemes had been transferred from the Ministry of Public Works and minister of communication to the Public Authority for Roads and Transportation (PART). The NBK report also noted that Parliament had raised questions about inconsistencies in the roles of different agencies.

PPP Model

The plan to use a public-private partnership (PPP) model to finance both schemes meant that the Kuwait Authority for Partnership Projects (KAPP) would be responsible for arranging the project’s feasibility studies and tendering. Its website notes that the Kuwait National Rail Road (KNRR) project is in the feasibility phase, but that the intention is to implement it on a build-own-transfer (BOT) basis.

KAPP also notes the importance of the new railway in connecting Kuwait City to the international airport, seaports and other GCC countries in order to speed communication and facilitate increased trade. KAPP describes the KMRT project as a 160-km network serving the metropolitan area of Kuwait City. Proposals include an underground section running through Kuwait’s central business district with a total of 68 stations: eight underground stations, a subterranean link at the international airport, and the remaining network running above ground.

Local media reported in September 2017 that Motlaq Al Sanea, KAPP’s director general, had told them the $7bn metro project was “back on track” following a successful feasibility study and government approval. Al Sanea said KAPP hoped to have discussions with banks and investors in order to establish a possible PPP finance model for the scheme.

Delays

Progress on the metro scheme has been slower than anticipated. In May 2008 Railway Gazette reported that tenders for the project would be issued in July of the same year. At that point, annual ridership was estimated at 69.1m passengers and the scheme being discussed was expected to cost $11.3bn. According to the report, the national rail project was also being planned at that time. Since the 2008 report was published, the number of vehicles on Kuwait’s roads has increased by 48%, from 1.35m to 2m in 2016. Concerns about traffic jams have been raised in Parliament, with one minister calling for all expatriate residents to be charged a $3300 annual fee for vehicle ownership, in an attempt to deter car usage among non-citizens. This proposal was rejected in February 2018.

Buses & Taxis

According to the Ministry of Interior, 80% of the 2m vehicles on the road in Kuwait in 2016 were private vehicles. Kuwait Public Transport Company (KPTC), which is owned by the government’s Kuwait Investment Authority, offers bus services, as do two private companies: KGL and City Bus. However, Kuwait does not have a public transport regulator and while bus companies offer services in the busiest areas, they do not cover less-profitable districts.

Between 2012 and 2016, the total number of passengers using the three companies fell by 17% to 87,349; however the two private companies saw a 43% increase in numbers over that period, while KPTC’s passenger figures fell by 67%. The company believes that a government regulator for the sector could improve the service and also ease congestion. “If there was a regulator, there would have to be commitments from operators, and companies could be offered subsidies to run routes through under-served parts of Kuwait,” Abdulla Naser, executive director for transport affairs at KPTC, told OBG. “The regulator would also control the flow of traffic and so prevent the situation today, where sometimes you can see 10 buses at a set of traffic lights, effectively contributing to congestion rather than alleviating it.” Major employers offer some bus services for their workers, and the government’s state schools are served by a bus fleet. There were more than 16,000 registered taxis in 2016. Taxis in Kuwait are metered, but there is limited enforcement of meter usage, particularly with licensed vehicles operating from the airport. Some licensed taxis use the hailing application Careem, which is permitted.

Public Solutions

As Kuwait expands beyond its existing metropolitan area and starts to build as many as 12 new towns, academics suggest there is an ideal opportunity to integrate light-rapid transit systems into the blueprints for these communities.

The academic journal Heliyon’s March 2018 issue featured a paper by University of Queensland’s Nayef Alghais and David Pullar, which used computer modelling to create and display projections of urban growth and traffic congestion in Kuwait. Their results suggested that construction of homes in new cities in Kuwait would eliminate the housing shortage and lead to a decrease in population density by 2050, but that traffic congestion would be reduced more effectively if a rail network was developed to serve the new communities. Over 1200 people were surveyed about their views on housing and public transport, and responses showed that people were enthusiastic about the prospect of rail transport. Of those surveyed, 99% said they prefer to use their own vehicle, and 70% said they would like to use the train in the future. “If you build a new city, you need a tram or metro, and I believe that when it proves to be more convenient and efficient, it will be used by Kuwaitis and expatriates alike,” Naser told OBG. “You only have to look at the underground, metro or subway in London, Paris or New York. These were not built with wealthy citizens in mind, but now everybody uses these networks. We are planning this infrastructure to serve Kuwait for the next 50 or so years.”

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The Report: Kuwait 2018

Transport & Logistics chapter from The Report: Kuwait 2018

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