Interview: Saud Al Naki

What long-term role can a railway system play in the development of Kuwait’s land transport network?

SAUD AL NAKI: A significantly delayed project is the construction of a railway network to connect Kuwait to its GCC neighbours via Saudi Arabia. Plans have been under way for years. The project will require a number of feasibility studies, the qualification of contractors and a large budget. The Kuwait Authority for Partnership Projects is supervising the tendering and pre-qualification process. PART will be the end user of this project, which will include a main station near the international airport and 110 km of rail built southwards to the border with Saudi Arabia. This project can be developed as a public-private partnership (PPP), in which an investor builds and operates the stations and earns profits from ticketing and other services. However, nobody will invest in the tracks themselves or other utilities that do not generate revenue, so these will need to be built as a direct contract, while the operations can be managed as a PPP. We also expect to have a second phase that connects the upcoming Mubarak Al Kabeer Port to Iraq.

How can public transit address urban congestion?

AL NAKI: Although engineered solutions like more bridges will support connectivity, they will not solve congestion in Kuwait City. Two major strategies to do so will need to entail the enforcement of traffic laws and public education on how to deal with public transport. On one front, we must ensure that drivers respect the law and that penalties are levied against violators. Likewise, we must identify why public transport is not widely used, whether it be comfort, routes or otherwise.

We have been working with a grassroots group called Kuwait Commute, which seeks to encourage people to use public transport. To make public transport viable, there must be cooperation between existing bus operators, as well as dedicated fast lanes for public vehicles and improvements to existing bus stations. In order to raise public awareness, there must also be initiatives encouraging the use of public transport, such as shuttle buses between high-transit destinations.

In what ways is PART looking to upgrade land connectivity and stimulate decentralisation?

AL NAKI: Law No. 115 established PART as the government entity responsible for all roads and land transportation, from design and construction to improvements. Some 30 years ago, when the Ministry of Public Works began to build the first federal highways, Kuwait City was small, with the downtown area encircled by the first ring road. Currently, there are seven ring roads, and the seventh one encircles all of Kuwait City, allowing traffic to go from north to south without entering the city.

Moving forward, there is a need for regional roads and enhanced connectivity with neighbours like Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Likewise, there is a need to upgrade existing roads and highways. A KD500m ($1.6bn) budget has been allocated for these projects in 2020, which are expected to be completed over the next three years.

To catalyse decentralisation, we have been engaged for over 10 years in upgrading the northern roads leading to the future site of Silk City, especially in Subiya and Boubyan Island. If one looks at the planned road network for northern Kuwait, it provides extensive connectivity to Silk City and to the newly opened Sheikh Jaber Causeway, which reduces the distance from Kuwait City to Silk City from 150 km to 36 km. At the same time, all the older northern area roads are being upgraded to cope with current and future traffic.

Whereas a lot of investment has been made to connect northern Kuwait, there are only two major roads – Fahaheel Highway and King Fahad Road – connecting the southern part of the country. The region is occupied by the Burgan oil field, limiting the amount of network that can be built. As a result, we are looking to upgrade existing roads where there can be more capacity. As part of this process, we are looking to partner with foreign contractors experienced with large-scale projects.