Transport drives Middle East tunnelling opportunities

This month I wrote a report for MEED on tunnelling opportunities in the region, and at the same time examined some of the big projects underway locally to highlight some of the lessons learned on major schemes.

Abu Dhabi’s Sewerage Services Company is using earth pressure balance machines from Germany’s Herrenknecht to bore multiple sections of its 41km deep gravity sewer

Thanks to the growing popularity of railways, metros and buried services among regional governments opportunities in the sector are on the rise. According to regional projects tracker MEED Projects there are $279bn-worth of schemes with a tunnelling element currently planned or under way in the Middle East, of which $192bn are in the GCC.

“The big thing is transportation, followed by water,” Paul Groves, the UAE-based head of UK consultant Atkins’ tunnelling network group told me. His assertions are certainly supported by investment figures. More than 80 per cent of projects with a tunnelling element are in the transport sector and many of these are metro schemes. Tehran, Dubai and Cairo have already delivered their metro networks and are now expanding them, while Abu Dhabi, Baghdad, Doha, Kuwait and Riyadh are planning their first projects.

“The big thing is transportation, followed by water,” Paul Groves, the UAE-based head of UK consultant Atkins’ tunnelling network group told me. His assertions are certainly supported by investment figures. More than 80 per cent of projects with a tunnelling element are in the transport sector and many of these are metro schemes. Tehran, Dubai and Cairo have already delivered their metro networks and are now expanding them, while Abu Dhabi, Baghdad, Doha, Kuwait and Riyadh are planning their first projects.

The biggest scheme about to get started is Doha’s ambitious metro project, which will play a critical part in moving football fans around Qatar when the 2022 World Cup comes to the region for the first time. If the existing timescale – to deliver 135km of new line including 61km of tunnelled metro by 2020 for operation by 2022 was not ambitious enough, Qatar Railway Company has now accelerated the timetable in order to enhance its prospects of hosting an Olympic Games in 2020.  It now wants to complete an earlier stage (1a) of 52km by 2019.

Bidding is now underway for this mega-project and I did manage to talk to a couple of contractors who are planning to bid. Their main concerns were over resources and project risk. Anyone who remembers shortages of the boom years 2006 and 2007 in Doha will understand how difficult it was to acquire sufficient cement and steel, contractors are concerned that history could repeat itself. At the same time design and build contracts place all risk with the contracting consortia so if this issue hits again contractors will be exposed to the cost implications and subsequent potential delays.

The tunnelling report also covers projects that have already got underway and in the case of Dubai metro been completed. I was fortunate enough to talk to Dubai’s Road Transport Authority (RTA) and Abu Dhabi’s Sewerage Services Company about their projects, as well as talk to experts from Atkins, Mott MacDonald, Herrenknecht and Implenia about the technical options available to clients planning tunnelled infrastructure solutions.

For a link to the report click here

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