Trains and Planes in the Middle East
The Middle East is experiencing a population boom that’s stressing existing transportation infrastructure and prompting governments to upgrade their airports, roads, and build new urban rail systems.
The Middle East is experiencing an unprecedented population boom. Recent UN data show the United Arab Emirates’ population surging 290 percent between 1995 and 2015 to 9.1 million people. Over that same time period, neighbor Saudi Arabia’s population has grown 67 percent to 31.5 million. By 2050, UN statisticians anticipate that number to reach 40 million. More than 2 million people lived in Oman in 1995. Twenty years later, that number has doubled to 4.4 million. Qatar’s population quadrupled from 501,000 in 1995 to 2.2 million this year.
This growth demands public infrastructure that ensures reliable electricity and efficient commutes in ever-expanding cities. New infrastructure also has to support industries that can generate long-term economic growth and create higher value jobs.
The Riyadh Metro
In Saudi Arabia, a consortium led by Bechtel is overseeing the $10 billion construction of two metro lines in Riyadh. Once operational, the metro will form the backbone of the city’s new 39-mile (63-kilometer) urban rail network and support a population expected to grow from 6 million to 8 million people by 2030.
Bechtel knows Saudi Arabia well, having managed projects there across multiple industries for more than 70 years. As it does for many of its projects, Bechtel is building the Riyadh Metro with several important partners, including local Saudi company Almabani General Contractors and the Consolidated Contractors Company. Also involved is Germany’s Siemens, which is designing and constructing the metro train cars and signaling systems.
New Airport Terminal in Oman
The company also completed the expansion of Qatar’s Hamad International Airport. Computer-Aided Design and Drafting (CADD) technology was used during the design process to increase speed and accuracy and cut construction costs.
The airport now includes two of the world’s longest commercial runways. Hamad International also accommodates 24 million passengers and 750,000 metric tons of cargo annually, and the airport’s traffic is overseen from a new, 85-meter (280 feet) tall control tower.
In Oman, a new 29-gate terminal is being added to Muscat International Airport that, once operational, will be able to process 12 million passengers a year. Longer term, the airport’s annual capacity could grow to as many as 48 million passengers. The terminal is being developed by Bechtel and a local company, Bahwan Engineering Company of Oman. Also involved is Turkish contractor Enka.
Strengthening Economies Across the Region
Whether in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or Oman, these new investments generate long-term economic benefits that reverberate well beyond the terminal jetways or metro stops. The new terminal is part of a larger effort to shift the Emirates' economy away from oil and gas exports.
In Riyadh today, just 2 percent of the city’s 6 million residents use some form of public transport. The rest use energy-inefficient cars to commute daily. The new metro lines will initially transport 1.6 million passengers daily, helping to decongest the growing city and cut domestic oil consumption.
Infrastructure is the linchpin that connects people, improves quality of life and strengthens economies. Infrastructure projects are often massive and complex in their engineering and financing. But new, modern and well-built metros, highways, bridges, and airports are critical pieces of sustainable development that can lay the foundation for long-term economic prosperity.