The transport sector has played a key strategic role in the growth of Qatar’s economy, and in the decade since the country won the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, tens of billions of dollars have been directed towards its infrastructure. Qatar’s residents are already seeing the benefits of these developments. For instance, more than 15m of people had taken a QR2 ($0.55) ride on the new metro system between its opening in May 2019 and the end of February 2020, while huge investments in the road network have cut journey times on key routes. There are also significant expansion projects ongoing at the country’s ports and international airport. In addition, in the announcement for the 2020 budget it was revealed that work would soon start on the $12bn Sharq Crossing, a bridge and tunnel initiative that is due to be completed in 2024.
Structure & Oversight
The key government department responsible for the sector is the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC). Amiri Decree No. 8 of 2016 established the organisational structure of the ministry, under which assistant undersecretaries are responsible for areas such as land and maritime transport, cybersecurity, digital society and IT, among others.
The sector is largely state-owned through a number of associated entities. Under the umbrella of state-owned Qatar Airways Group is Hamad International Airport (HIA), which opened in 2014; Qatar Executive, created in 2009 and which operates a fleet of Gulfstream executive jets; Qatar Duty Free, responsible for 90 boutiques, and 30 cafes and restaurants at HIA; and Qatar Airways Cargo, which delivers to 60 freight hubs, and 160 business and leisure destinations on more than 250 aircraft, including its own cargo freighter fleet of two Boeing 747-8s, 21 Boeing 777s and five Airbus A330s. Other important entities in the segment are Qatar Civil Aviation Authority and Qatar Aeronautical College.
Qatar Ports Management Company (Mwani Qatar) is responsible for the Hamad Port at Umm Al Houl, the commercial Doha Port and Al Ruwais Port in the north of the country. The export of chemicals and petrochemicals, meanwhile, is the responsibility of state-owned Qatar Chemical and Petrochemical Marketing and Distribution Company, also known as Muntajat, which was created in 2012 to market the country’s downstream products. The state oil and gas company Qatar Petroleum manages three ports that are used to transport crude oil or liquefied natural gas at Ras Laffan, Mesaieed and Halul Island.
Qatar Rail is responsible for developing and operating three key land transport developments: the Doha Metro, the Lusail Tram and the national rail line that aims to connect to the planned GCC rail network, which is scheduled for completion in 2030. Mowasalat has responsibility for urban transport modes such as buses and taxis. The Public Works Authority (Ashghal), which is a sub-unit of the Ministry of Municipality and Environment, oversees construction contracts, including those in the transport sector.
In the second quarter of 2019, the most recent data available from the Planning and Statistics Authority (PSA), the transport and storage sector’s contribution to nominal GDP was valued at QR7.33bn ($2bn), up 8.2% year-on-year(y-o-y) but down 0.6% on the previous quarter. Contribution to real GDP was valued at QR4.87bn ($1.3bn), up 6.7% y-o-y but down 3.2% on the previous quarter. The sector’s contribution to total GDP in the second quarter of 2019 was 4.5% in nominal terms and 2.4% in real terms. Full-year data for 2018 shows that the transport and storage sector contributed QR28.2bn ($7.7bn) to nominal GDP, representing 4% of total GDP, and an increase of 9.5% on 2017. In real terms the sector’s contribution was QR18.3bn ($5bn), a 0.7% increase on QR18.2bn ($5bn) in 2017, representing a contribution of approximately 2.2%.
Roads & Bridges
The most high-profile road and bridge project being developed in 2020 is the Sharq Crossing. In late December 2019 Ashghal held a briefing session with local contractors to enable them to form alliances with the international companies that were expected to tender for the project. According to the authority’s plans, consortia involving Qatari firms and international engineering companies would be formed in January 2020 and tender offers were to be invited in February, with a view to starting work on the project in the third quarter of 2020. The Sharq Crossing design includes 12 km of bridges connected by a 1-km tunnel that allows ships to pass above. It would also link 2022 FIFA World Cup venues, including stadiums in Ras Bu Abboud and Lusail. Crossing time is estimated to be seven minutes.
Qatar has been working consistently to improve its road infrastructure to keep pace with the growth of the capital city. Doha’s road system has expanded beyond the original settlement around the port and is connected by concentric ring roads. According to PSA data, the total length of roads completed annually grew from 416 km in 2014 to 1588 km in 2018. In 2019 Ashghal finished some 150 km of new construction work on expressways alone.
Significant civil engineering projects on the road network include Duhail Interchange, where a threelevel junction is being built, with two new bridges and 3.3 km of new carriageway. In December 2019 the 200-metre-long Al Shamal Bridge was opened, featuring five northbound lanes and four southbound lanes, extending the three lanes in each direction. The new bridge has boosted capacity from 12,000 to 18,000 vehicles per hour. The second bridge at the intersection will have three lanes in each direction. The Duhail project is due to be completed in early 2021 and is expected to reduce journey times for people living in several adjacent communities by 90%.
In early 2020 another major intersection was due to be completed, consisting of four 150-metre bridges, two loops, four ramps and four underpasses on Al Khor Road at Lusail. In addition, construction work is set to be completed on what is described as Qatar’s largest interchange at Umm Lekhba by the end of 2020. With a combined length of 11 km over four levels and nine bridges, the intersection is designed to handle 20,000 vehicles an hour and speed up journey times by more than 70%. Another project under way is the removal of the Lekhwiya Roundabout, which is being replaced with a twolevel interchange that will include part of the longest bridge in Qatar, a 3.1-km crossing over Al Rasheeda Street. This project is expected to reduce journey times by 50% on the Sabah Al Ahmad Corridor.
Although roadworks across the country may have caused frustration at times, the expanding network is undoubtedly lowering travel times for residents. In the World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitiveness Report 2019”, Qatar ranked 18th out of 141 countries for its road connectivity and placed 16th for the quality of its roads infrastructure. Although the economic blockade may have shifted the volume of goods transported via routes such as Salwa Road from the Saudi border towards Hamad Port and routes to HIA, the number of registered vehicles on Qatar’s roads has grown steadily, from 1.23m in 2014 to approximately 1.59m in 2018.
Travellers may be noticing improvements in the road network, but the most dramatic changes to Doha’s transport infrastructure have been taking place underground. From May to December 2019 the three lines of Qatar Rail’s 76-km metro network gradually came into service and fast became popular with citizens and residents. By the end of February 2020 the Doha Metro had carried more than 15m people. When passengers use contactless smart cards, single journeys cost QR2 ($0.55) and day tickets sell for QR6 ($1.65); however, these prices increase by 50% if a paper ticket is used. Meanwhile, gold class compartments cost QR10 ($2.75) per ticket or QR30 ($8.23) for a day. Some of the stations on the Red Line, such as Qatar University, opened in mid-December as the autumn term was drawing to a close. “On the first day of the spring term in January 2020 we went from 1200 check-ins at Qatar University station to 3600,” Raimund Hanauer, transport planning director of Qatar Rail, told OBG. To encourage more people to switch to public metro travel, Qatar Rail has worked with Mowasalat to operate a free feeder bus network, which started with 60 buses servicing 13 lines; however, it was quickly expanded to meet demand, and by early 2020 there were 38 bus routes in operation, with another 30 due to be introduced in the coming months (see analysis).
The Doha Metro is beginning to influence decisions about where and how people live in the city. With many expatriates signing 12-month leases, proximity to metro stations has rapidly made some of the city’s communities more desirable. This has impacted rental rates, as areas closer to the new stations are more desirable. For example, the Red Line runs from Lusail to HIA, but it also branches off to the suburb of Al Wakra, where many communities are served by the feeder bus network. “We are being told there are people from Al Wakra who travel to work in West Bay and are considering selling their cars,” Hanauer told OBG. “Uptake by citizens has been exceptionally high, and we see that they are proud of the system and that it has changed the way people move around the city.”
The Doha Metro was also constructed to facilitate the hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. In December 2019 Qatar hosted the FIFA Club World Cup, and at one match around half of the spectators arrived by metro. With the Doha Metro up and running, the next stage of the network is in Lusail, the new waterfront city taking shape at the end of the Red Line. Scheduled to open in 2020, the Lusail Tram will have a 19-km network with four lines serving 25 stations and will be integrated with the broader Doha Metro.
HIA was connected to the Doha Metro in mid-December 2019, when its station was opened to passengers. The international airport has been operating since 2014 but is already undergoing expansion to increase the number of passengers it can handle for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and beyond. In 2019 HIA saw record passenger numbers after two consecutive years of contractions, following the imposition of the economic blockade in mid-2017. In its first full year of operation in 2015, the airport handled 31.1m passengers and this number leapt to 37.4m in 2016, but passenger numbers fell to 35.3m in 2017 and 34.5m in 2018. However, in early 2020 HIA reported that its passenger numbers had grown by 12.4% in 2019 to a record 38.8m.
In late 2019 the airport announced that a major construction project would start in early 2020, which would see its capacity expand to 53m by 2022 and eventually to 60m. In the first phase of the expansion plan, a central walkway linking concourses D and E will be opened, and subsequently those two concourses will be extended. The expansion project includes a 10,000-sq-metre indoor tropical garden, 11,720 sq metres of additional food outlets and shops, and a 9000-sq-metre Al Mourjan lounge.
While the airport expansion promises to help the country cope with the influx of tourists in 2022, the national carrier Qatar Airways is still facing the financial impacts of the blockade. The stateowned airline’s financial year ends on March 31, and in FY 2018/19 it reported a second consecutive loss. Losses increased from around QR252m ($69.2m) in FY 2017/18 to QR2.3bn ($631.3m) in FY 2018/19. In the immediate aftermath of the sanctions the airline lost routes to 18 destinations in blockading countries, and bans on its operation in the airspace of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have meant that Qatar Airways flights must fly north over Iraq to European and North American territories, or east over Iran to serve oriental destinations.
“These longer routes resulted in higher costs for fuel and time in the air for crews, but through excellent planning and expansion of its routes, we are confident the carrier will overcome these difficulties,” Mohammed Faleh Alhajri, director of the air transport department of Qatar Civil Aviation Authority, told OBG. In its 2019 annual report the airline struck a defiant note: “As Qatar Airways finds itself in the third year of the illegal airspace blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE, our purpose is underscored as a strategic pillar critical to people movement and connectivity, ensuring food security in our country, as well as the sustainable distribution of medicines and other essential supplies.”
According to PSA data, in the calendar years from 2015 to 2018 the total tonnage of inbound cargo handled at HIA grew by 49% from approximately 807,645 tonnes to 1.2m tonnes. Most of the heavy lifting has been done by Qatar Airways: during FY 2018/19 the airline carried some 1.5m tonnes, making it the world’s second-largest cargo airline.
Seaports have played a critical role in Qatar’s response to the blockade, particularly Hamad Port, which officially opened in September 2017, just months after the sanctions were imposed. Mwani Qatar is responsible for the country’s non-oil cargo ports, and in November 2017 the operating company QT erminals was established as a joint venture between Mwani (51%) and the privately owned Qatari company Milaha, also known as Qatar Navigation (49%). QT erminals handles containers and non-containerised loads including general cargo, bulk, roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro), livestock and offshore supply. Hamad Port contains completed basins for three container docks with a combined annual capacity of 7.5m twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). Container Terminal 1 (CT1), which has a capacity of over 2m TEUs, is operational. By June 2019 QT erminals reported that it had handled almost 3m TEUs, over 3m tonnes of general cargo, 175,000 vehicles on ro-ro ships and 3500 different vessels. In November 2019 QT erminals signed a contract with Switzerland’s Mediterranean Shipping Company that saw Hamad Port handle some 150,000 TEUs, with plans to grow to 1m TEUs by 2023. As well as operating CT1, QT erminals is responsible for the development of Container Terminal 2, which will double container capacity at the port (see analysis). Al Ruwais Port in the north of the country handles general cargo, including fresh and frozen food, and largely brings in supplies from neighbouring countries like Iran and Oman.
Meanwhile, expansion is under way at Doha Port, which has been a growing cruise liner destination since 2015. In October 2019 a new 6000-sq-metre temporary terminal was opened to serve cruise passengers until a permanent structure is completed in time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The same month Mwani Qatar announced that Doha was expected to welcome 74 ships carrying 235,000 visitors during the 2019/20 season, which runs from October to May. This would represent a 70% increase in ship visits and a 63% increase in passenger numbers over 2018/19; however, the global spread of Covid-19 in early 2020 will likely result in lower-than-expected visitor numbers, as authorities in many countries advise against international travel.
At the same time as Qatar is significantly expanding its ports, airport and roads, new solutions are being introduced on the ground to help travellers more smoothly navigate the public transport system. An integrated automated fare collection and ticketing system is due to be introduced in 2020, following an agreement between the MoTC, Qatari digital solutions provider Gulf Business Machines Qatar and MSI Global of Singapore. The system will enable customers to use a single payment method across multiple modes of transport such as the Doha Metro, the Lusail Tram, buses and taxis.
In July 2019 the MoTC began conducting trials of an automatic rapid transit system in which driverless passenger vehicles operate on roads using artificial intelligence, as well as vehicles powered by batteries with a short range of 25 km and recharging time of 10 minutes, or a 75-km range supported by a threehour recharge time. If the trials are deemed to be a success, the vehicles could be commissioned and deployed in time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
In 2020 a new fleet of 627 electric buses is due to be imported to complement the existing public bus fleet. Use of Qatar’s bus fleet expanded by some 40% from 2015 to 2018, according to the MoTC.
With significant new investment in its seaports and airport, the transport sector’s international gateways are set to see a step change in the volumes of cargo and passengers they are able to handle. Within the country, a system of movement that originally evolved to suit drivers, cars and lorries is rapidly being transformed into a multi-modal urban transport network that is fit for future needs.