Saudi residents have long enjoyed cheap and abundant supplies of fuel, making car ownership the preferred choice for transport. Yet with the number of new cars on the road expected to reach 1m per year by 2020, and a population increasingly concentrated in the Kingdom’s main urban centres, municipal authorities are beginning to look to mass transit alternatives. Indeed, five Saudi cities are currently either building or planning major integrated transport systems, with total investment (based on current reports) expected to reach SR250bn ($66.63bn) through to 2025. Of the $190bn of transport infrastructure spending currently forecast in the Kingdom, OBG estimates over a third (35.3%) will be invested in municipal public transport.

INTEGRATED SYSTEM: The first Saudi city to develop plans for an integrated transport system was the capital, Riyadh. In 2012 the Council of Ministers approved the Riyadh Public Transport Project (RPTP), under the management of the Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA). The plans are ambitious: an SR82.5bn ($22bn), six-line metro system, including 87 air-conditioned stations, to be accompanied by a fleet of nearly 1000 buses covering 24 routes. Works have already commenced, and the network is anticipated to be operational by 2019.

Since the announcement of the Riyadh project, Jeddah and Makkah have also proceeded with plans to implement integrated public transport networks. In March 2013, the Council of Ministers approved creation of a wholly owned subsidiary of the Jeddah Development and Urban Regeneration Company, the Jeddah Metro Company. The Jeddah Metro Company will see the delivery of a SR45bn ($12bn), multi-modal network, incorporating a four-line metro system, a commuter rail line, a tramway, an 816-vehicle bus fleet and a 27-km boat network. The system is to be ready by 2022.

In Makkah, meanwhile, a wholly owned subsidiary of Al Balad Al Ameen Development and Urban Regeneration Company was created to supervise plans for a public transport network set to include a four-line metro system and four-tiered bus service. The Makkah Mass Rail Transit Company (MMRTC) will oversee the SR25.5bn ($6.8bn) project, which follows on from the successful completion of the SR7.5bn ($2bn) Mashair light railway in 2010, which currently ferries pilgrims to various religious sites during the Hajj.

MEDINA & DAMMAN: The two most recent entrants to the field are Medina and Dammam. The former has plans for a driverless three-line metro system, complemented by a three-tiered bus service, which municipal authorities hope will be operational within eight years. As of yet, however, there has not been any official announcement regarding the appointment of a delivery authority or budget for the project.

Similarly, authorities in Dammam in the Eastern Province have also recently announced plans for a public transport system to connect the city with nearby Qatif and the King Fahd Causeway to Bahrain, to be completed within the next seven years. The two-line metro system will be accompanied by a bus service and will be built following an 18-month period of planning and design study; a provisional budget of SR60bn ($16bn) has been mentioned in local press. As with Medina, no delivery authority was appointed as of mid-2015, though the Council of Ministers had decided in late 2014 to establish an “authority for the development of the Eastern Province”, chaired by the governor.

Securing the delivery of such large infrastructure projects on time and within budget would present a significant challenge in any country, let alone one in which public transport is a relatively blank slate. The authorities have therefore recruited a broad spectrum of international firms to assist in the task, particularly regarding the complex process of designing and building the various underground metro systems which will be the centrepiece of these integrated networks.

WORKS PACKAGES: Contracts for the first – and largest – metro project, the six-line Riyadh network, were signed in 2013. Rather than staggering construction over several phases, the ADA decided to push ahead with construction of all six lines simultaneously, and divided the project into three work packages to be distributed across three different international consortia.

The first package, consisting of lines 1 and 2 and valued at $9.45bn, was awarded to the BACS consortium, made up of Bechtel, Siemens, Almabani General Contractors and the Consolidated Contractors Company. The package includes the construction of 38 km of track and 22 stations for line 1, the majority of which will be below ground, as well as 25 km and 13 stations for line 2, some of which will be elevated. The rolling stock for these lines will be supplied by Siemens and consist of 74 Inspiro driverless trains with a capacity of 21,000 passengers per hour.

The second package, comprising line 3 and valued at a total of around $5.9bn, was awarded to the Arriyadh New Mobility consortium, which is made up of Ansaldo STS, Bombardier, Salini-Impreglio, Larsen & Toubro, and Nesma. Line 3 will be 40.7 km long and include 22 stations, with rolling stock consisting of 47 driverless Bombardier Innovia metro 300 trains.

The third and final package, valued at $7.82bn, consists of lines 4, 5 and 6, and was awarded to the FAST consortium, led by Spanish construction firm FCC. The gr includes Samsung, Alstom, Strukton, Freyssinet Saudi Arabia, Typsa and Setec. The three lines will consist of 29.8 km of elevated track, 8.2 km at surface and 26.6 km below surface, totalling 64.6 km, as well as 25 stations. Rolling stock will be provided by Alstom and will comprise 69 two-car Metropolis driverless trains.

Alongside these three packages, ADA also awarded two project and construction management contracts. The first, for $556m and covering lines 1, 2 and 3, went to Riyadh Metro Transit Consultants, a joint venture between Parsons, Egis and Systra. The second, worth $264m and covering lines 4, 5 and 6, was awarded to Riyadh Advanced Metro Project Execution and Delivery, a joint venture between Louis Berger and Hill International. The station designs will see several iconic buildings, including works by internationally recognised architects such as Gerber Architekten, Omrania & Associates, Snøhetta and Zaha Hadid.

STAGED GROWTH: In contrast to Riyadh, both Jeddah and Makkah remain at the initial stages of development, with Makkah in particular set to follow a different path by staggering development of its metro system over three phases, which are set to last 10 years. In May 2014 AECOM was awarded an 18-month contract worth $28m to provide consultancy services to support the preliminary planning and design phase of the Jeddah project, while in November 2014 MMRTC selected Kuala Lumpur-based transport agency Prasarana to provide consultancy services for phase 1 of the Makkah project, in a SR9m ($2.4m), 30-month contract. Prasarana is also involved, alongside China Railway Construction Corporation, in the operation and maintenance contract for the running of Mashair Railway. In addition, 15 international consortia have reportedly expressed initial interest in the first stage of the Makkah project.