Qatar's multibillion-dollar programme of expanding the country's transport infrastructure is gathering pace with a firm opening date set for the Doha's new airport, tenders called for the first stage of a rail link and plans to revamp the public bus service all announced in recent weeks.
Quite apart from the conventional reasons for building new transport infrastructure, such as meeting the needs of a rapidly expanding economy and boosting tourism, Qatar has other, more athletic goals in its sights.
The country is looking to improve its overall transport grid as part of its campaign to be granted the rights to host the Olympic Games. Having not been successful in bidding for the 2016 games, Qatar has put itself into the running for the Olympiad of 2020. It has also kicked off a campaign to stage the 2022 World Cup, the second-largest event on the global sporting calendar.
While the requirement of providing the necessary stadiums and facilities to host the games are of paramount importance when both the International Olympic Committee and FIFA make their decisions, the ability to be able to move fans, officials and competitors in and out of the host country and then between hotels and venues is also crucial.
Qatar has been working to build up an impressive resume of sporting events hosted, including the 2006 Asian Games and the recent friendly football match between Brazil and England. Of course, events such as the World Cup or the Olympics draw far more spectators and competitors than a single match or a regional sports meet. Nevertheless, the Qatari Olympic Committee used the success of past events, and the vast expansion of the country's transport network, in its pitch for the 2016 games.
The jewel in the crown of the transportation programme is the $14bn New Doha International Airport (NDIA), which is scheduled to start receiving flights in mid-2011. The first two stages of the project, which will be completed concurrently, will see the airport have a passenger-handling capacity of 24m a year, a figure set to double as subsequent stages are finished.
The airport is also intended to serve as a major air freight hub, with a capacity to handle 1.4m tonnes of cargo annually. This compares to the 466,600 tonnes handled at the existing Doha airport in 2008.
It is not just air travel that has been the subject of massive investments though. In late October, Qatari officials unveiled plans to radically reduce the county's dependence on the automobile for domestic transport, releasing details of a proposed system that will combine rail and an advanced public bus service.
The rail component of the plan includes a 180-km long link connecting Doha with the Bahraini capital Manama, the line crossing the yet-to-be-built 40-km causeway between the two countries and another line running from NDIA to the Saudi border. There will also be 325 km of dedicated freight lines and four metro lines with a total length of 292 km, which will be served by 172 trains stopping at 69 stations.
One step in this process has already been taken, with five consortiums submitting bids in early November for a tender to construct a railway station at NDIA.
State transport firm Mowasalat is carrying out another part of the project. The company is conducting a feasibility study into implementing a bus rapid transit (BRT) system, which would see a series of centralised bus stations built, special bus lanes set aside on main traffic routes and a major increase in the numbers of buses and frequency of services.
The BRT system would be integrated with the metro and long-distance rail grids, putting in place a land-based transport network operating at local, national and international levels.
Again, there is a sporting link, with plans for both the BRT and the metro to be completed and ready to serve all major stadiums should Doha win the rights to stage either the 2020 Olympics or the World Cup two years later.
Whatever the outcome of Qatar's bids for the world's two premier sporting events, it will have an international-class transport network, one which some estimates say has a price tag of well over $21bn. Though seemingly high, this investment should equip the Qatari economy to play in the top flight.