Doha Metro: Can it work?
Amid concerns, including Qatar’s hot climate, a high percentage of private cars per household and a legacy of urban environment not conducive to an intra-city rail network, questions have been raised about the efficacy of the Doha Metro project. In an exclusive interview with The Edge, Qatar Rail Company’s (Qatar Rail) managing director and chairman of the executive committee, Engineer Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Turki Al Subaie, shares the company’s strategies to ensure successful delivery and effectiveness of the Doha Metro.
Given the harsh climatic conditions in the Gulf, can a public transport project like the Doha Metro work in Qatar? Engineer Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Turki Al Subaie, managing director (MD) and chairman of the executive committee of Qatar Rail, shares some of the strategies Qatar Rail has adopted to deliver an effective means of public transport.
First, the weather. The locations of the 38 stations of the Doha Metro are strategised to be in highly dense areas around Doha, says Al Subaie, “We will try to connect to the surrounding buildings through some kind of corridors, shaded or sometimes even cooled. The stations will provide shelter for people in the hot weather, so it will be more convenient for them to use these stations to move from place to place.”
While the temperature levels within stations and their surroundings can be maintained, what cannot be controlled is the city’s overall climate, making it difficult for commuters to travel by foot. The reach of the metro service is planned to be broadened by the use of feeder buses to cover neighbourhoods not accessible by foot. “We can have them every five minutes or three minutes or 10 minutes, depending on the demand and time of the day,” says Al Subaie, explaining that the frequency of feeder buses will be governed by the
Another major concern making Doha’s Metro tough terrain involves the challenges during its construction phase. With the current state of congestion on roads, Doha can ill-afford traffic disruptions. As part of its traffic control strategy, Al Subaie says that the company is trying to avoid road closures wherever possible. In cases where it’s unavoidable, “we always think of diversions of the same capacity. We are trying to keep the time of these road closures or diversions as minimal as possible. Also, we pick a time, if possible, during the year when we have less demand on the road, for instance in summer.”
Qatar Rail has recently received seven tunnel boring machines (TBM). The idea for TBMs, Al Subaie says, came after consideration to avoid traffic disruptions, “We are working on many stations but people probably don’t feel it” due to minimal diversions
To maintain traffic flow, Qatar Rail is coordinating with Ashghal and has recently signed an agreement with Qatar Mobility Innovations Center (QMIC), which will provide services for traffic monitoring, congestion management and logistic management of contractors. Al Subaie says, “We have a lot of materials to be disposed off after this excavation and the contractors usually move these materials to outside the city. We have big fleets between all contractors. We don’t want these fleets to worsen the situation of traffic inside the city, so we use QMIC for monitoring the fleets, selecting the best time, selecting the best route, trying not to affect the city.”
The successful delivery of the Doha Metro is also associated with a ready supply of imported building materials. While the limited capacity of Doha’s old port has been a topic of discussion in the country’s construction sector, Al Subaie does not see it as a problem. “I’m in communication with head of the port authority and he says that they are not running even at their maximum capacity,” he says, adding that the real demand for imported materials will emerge around the finishing stage of the project. By the time the Doha Metro reaches this stage, Al Subaie is positive the new port will be up and running. For the initial stages such as excavation and concrete, he says, primary materials are used which are usually found in Qatar, “Cement is produced here, sand is available here, water is here, so only the aggregate is imported from outside and there is a big stock in the country, which is sufficient for one year.”
Work in progress
With plans to award construction packages for the elevated part in the Red Line North and Green Line by the end of this year, Qatar Rail has awarded seven line packages of the Doha Metro during the last 12 months. “The contractors now have mobilised, started the ground breaking for the stations in 38 locations. In six stations, we have reached to the basis lab which is the bottom line of the stations, around 27 metres deep, from where we start building our station from bottom to top,” says Al Subaie.
Considering the scope of the Doha Metro spread across the city and beyond, management of the project is bound to involve dealing with multiple contractors. “If we have our lines moving from Wakrah in the south of the city to the north, it will intersect with power, with water, telecommunication, gas, sewer, roads, the bridge and also buildings, and if you are also moving this below the ground, you need to study topography and geology,” explains Al Subaie. This intersection, hence, means involving contractors to provide services in areas from engineering to facility and asset management. The key is to select the right contractors and monitor them.
In selecting the right contractor, Al Subaie says, the process starts with awareness and expression of interest from companies all over the world. These companies are invited in a forum where Qatar Rail introduces the project, its scope, requirement, conditions and client’s expectations, along with the risks and opportunities involved.
The second stage, he continues, involves pre-qualifying them for different activities or disciplines for civil works, underground works and systems, etcetera. The next stage involves the formation of consortiums featuring a mix of local and international contractors. Explaining the rationale behind this, Al Subaie says, “The idea is that there are many international contractors who have experience of railway project outside of Qatar but they don’t have local projects’ know-how, and we have our local contractors with local projects’ knowledge but lacking the experience of railway projects.”
A consortium, then, he says, is rich in a sense that each party adds value to the project. The selection of these contractors is based on criteria involving financial capacity, previous projects, success rate and client feedback, etcetera. This leads to invitation to bid, after which, the quality of the bid is assessed, followed by technical assessment, technical ranking and commercial ranking.
Taking calculated risks
As construction works continue to progress, questions related to post-construction phase need to be addressed through estimates on headways (frequency of trains) and ridership (number of passengers), further dictating decisions on procurement of trains. Qatar Rail is currently carrying out a study to analyse passenger demands. A part of this study also involves demand estimates during special occasions such as the 2022 World Cup. “The maximum frequency is to have a train every one-and-a-half minutes, but usually trains run in different cycles during different periods. So during rush hour, it will run at higher frequency,” he explains. While the subject of headways can be explored conclusively once the project is near completion, Al Subaie says the company is exploring options to make it as flexible as possible while maintaining robust safety conditions. “It is dynamic, it is not something fixed, but every one-and-a-half minute is considered one of the highest frequencies in the world. You cannot achieve beyond this standard because of safety aspects,” he says.
A conclusive finding on headways will also lead to decisions on the number of trains to be procured. With their modular structure, the trains used for the Doha Metro will allow flexibility for varying passenger capacities. “We are starting with half of the train’s length so we can add the same capacity later on in future years whenever we need so…it can go up to 2500,” tells Al Subaie. While tram contracts for Lusail Light Transit have already been awarded, Qatar Rail is yet to announce the winning train providers for the Doha Metro project, “Before the end of this year we will know who the winning bidder is, who is winning for this train set,” reveals Subaie.
A question of attitude shift
Ostensibly, Qatar Rail is equipped with strategies to ensure the metro project sees smooth progress towards its execution. However, the efficacy of this multi-billion project will only be defined by its utility, something that demands an attitude shift from the current transport scene backed by personal vehicles. For instance, stations located in central Doha will not necessarily be equipped with a large number of parking lots. “In the future, you may not always be able to park your car just near to the place you would like to see,” says Al Subaie, adding that the option to park-your-car and ride-the-metro will only be encouraged for passengers coming from the outskirts of Doha. “We are trying to minimise the number of cars entering the city from outskirts of Doha. So we don’t want, for example, someone to come into the city and park inside the city,” he explains.
“When the metro has been built,” he says, “you need a mindset that supports public transport and the concept of ‘sharing is caring’. At the end, it is not sustainable that everyone has their own car and we have to be very conscious of our environment,” says Al Subaie, explaining the company’s final strategy to educate the public in order to increase the metro’s ridership.
Accomplishing the company’s vision “to be the favoured mode of transport for all” requires intensive awareness campaigns involving all groups of stakeholders. Qatar Rail plans to launch focused communication campaigns to promote optimum use of metro facilities and to encourage people to use the metro as part of their daily traffic life. These campaigns will also help to educate the general public on the social, economic and environmental benefits.
“Our vision is for Qatar to have one of the world’s best integrated transport systems connecting people, places, goods and services enabling economic prosperity and quality of life for all. We are proud to be undertaking this challenge,” says Al Subaie. “We are heading to achieve the target date for starting the [first phase of] the metro that involves three lines - Red, Green and Gold – running by October 2019,” concludes Al Subaie.