DEEPER UNDERGROUND

Qatar 2015 | TRANSPORT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Eng. Saad Bin Ahmed Bin Ibrahim Al-Muhannadi, CEO of Qatar Rail, on what the metro project will mean for Doha and working toward Qatar National Vision 2030.

What were the specific reasons for taking on the Qatar Rail project?

The main reason is to serve our future generations in the State of Qatar. This is strongly linked to the State's vision for 2030, which is to provide an infrastructure network capable of serving the needs of the people. If you look at the situation in Qatar now, in terms of population and congestion, and compare that to the expected population of 2030, it is clear that, without a robust transportation system, the quality of life in Qatar would be severely impacted. Although we are a small country, most of our population is concentrated in a small and congested area We have an additional 100,000 cars coming onto our roads every year. If you consider that growth rate continuing to 2030, any person looking at this population forecast will agree that, though the State of Qatar is small, it will need a public transportation system to serve the needs of the people. It is not only a rail system. It is an integrated system with rail, bus, and other modes of transport. In addition to that, it is our vision to be the hub for big events. The availability of a public transportation system will help Qatar to serve as a top destination for big events. It will make for a smooth and easy experience for visitors.

Were there any specific examples in the world that Qatar looked at for inspiration?

Qatar Rail is a greenfield project; a project without the obstacles of existing rail infrastructure. This is one of the biggest advantages we have. That has enabled us to borrow from the best technologies in the transport, rail, and metro sectors. We have borrowed good ideas from Hong Kong, Berlin, Paris, London, and worldwide. We did not copy any one entity or system. We tried to take the best from each example and incorporate it into a model in order to make Qatar's public transportation network world class.

“Qatar Rail is a greenfield project; a project without the obstacles of existing rail infrastructure."

Besides the Doha metro and long-distance rail, Qatar Rail also operates a light rail transit route to Lusail. How do the concepts differ from each other?

We believe that the three projects should be integrated together and that they must complement each other. Metro stations will be connected to the light rail system. It is a very integrated model that will help the people living in, for example, Lusail to utilize the light rail system and the metro together. There is also a station for long-distance and freight. Freight routes will mainly connect Saudi Arabia with Qatar for Phase I. These are all integrated. The light rail and metro will have the same operational concept. Long-distance and freight will have a different operation. We have already brought in expert operators to help us manage the networks efficiently.

The tunnel boring machines for the metro arrived in April 2014. Where do you expect the construction of the Doha Metro to be at the end of 2014?

We have a plan and we are on schedule. We received eight tunnel-boring machines and have already delivered them to each site. We expect to finalize the main foundation for around 15 stations by the end of this year. By the end of 2014 we will award all the technical-related tenders for the metro. By the end of this year we will have all of the components of the metro. In addition to that, civil progress, which is one of the critical parts for the underground, has moved in line with the plan. According to the plan, the first metro can start its engine in October 2019. As of now there is no indication that we will not be able to achieve this.

What are the main challenges in realizing the metro project?

For me, the metro is a thousand projects merged into one. The main challenge is that normally around the world you are making an extension for a network that is about 4 or 5 kilometers. Here, we are starting with Phase I, which is around 83 kilometers and spans from North to South and East to West. It is a big challenge to coordinate with all the stakeholders involved. Coordinating this is one of the main challenges. In addition to that, it is a new experience for us since we have never done this before. Interfacing the metro with the civil and systems infrastructure is also a primary challenge. However, we were prepared for that in our plan and we have been pro-active about it rather than reactive. We completed all the land acquisition within two years and we succeeded in mobilizing contractors directly. To be honest with you, this only happened because of the coordination between all the stakeholders. Sometimes, when a high state authority has a vision, you will find that the main stakeholders will work together to deliver this vision. I think the rail project provided a clear example of the main stakeholders and the main management in the State of Qatar working together to deliver the vision.

Doha is a rapidly developing city and it is getting larger and larger. How does Qatar Rail take this continued expansion into account?

First of all, we have a master plan for what we expect Qatar to be in 2030. Based on this plan, we identified where we should build the stations. At Qatar Rail we focus on moving people from one end to the other. We will move them from office to home and from home to office. That is our main objective. We identify the areas where the demand will be strongest, we find a location for the station, and we figure out how the station will be connected to the larger transportation system in the State of Qatar. We serve all the concentrated locations, including the hospitals, educational facilities, malls, and stadiums.

In which specific elements of the Qatar Rail project are you still inviting foreign companies to come in and offer their expertise on?

For Phase I, all of the projects will be awarded by the end of 2014. We have a master plan that is split into three phases. So once there is a need for further expansion, we will launch Phase II. Now it is only in the planning stage. That is normal with any rail or metro project. You set up your network, and you will see that the network needs to be expanded every two to five years depending on the demand. In the coming years, the main focus will be on the operation companies and architectural companies to come and fit out the stations.

The Qatar National Vision 2030 is pushing the country forward, and Qatar Rail is a very important element of that. How does it personally inspire you in managing this project?

To be honest with you, people have asked why we need a metro. Qatar is small. But to have a vision, and know where you want to go helps you to keep the path clear. You know what you want and understand what is required. This provides a clear motivation for any Qatari to do his best to achieve this vision. You should not look at what you need today. You need to think about the future and how you need to serve the future generations, so that the old people can do something good for the state. This is one of the main elements of the 2030 plan. It has shifted the mindset of the people, especially for the management, from operations to strategy. This is one of the main elements of the vision. Before, we did not announce our vision. But once you announce your vision, even the management starts to think more strategically. Now any organization you will find will have a master plan for short-term, mid-term, and long-term planning. This is a key element to improve all of the management in the state of Qatar.

© The Business Year - September 2014