2022 could not have started better for tramways: on 1 January, Qatar inaugurated the initial phase of its first tramway network, which serves the new city of Lusail built on the outskirts of the capital. This first line, of a network that will eventually include four, is one of the key elements of the Qatari authorities' plan to provide services to the Football World Cup stadiums, interconnected with the Doha Metro. But, as emblematic as it is, Qatar is only one step in the beautiful history of tramways in the Middle East.
One tramway can hide others
The first chapter was written just 650km away, in the United Arab Emirates. Since 11 November 2014, the Dubai Marina and the residential district of Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) have been served by the first tramway built in the region, in the heart of Dubai. SYSTRA was the project management assistant from 2006 to 2022, in partnership with Aecom from 2017 to 2018, carrying out all the design studies for its three development phases. Only the first envisaged section is currently built and in service, with an unprecedented sum of technologies gathered for such a mode of transport.
The tramway is characterised by an entirely ground-level power supply without catenary, air-conditioned stations with platform screen doors, and an automatic train protection and control system. It is the first streetcar equipped with a system derived from CBTC (Communications-Based Train Control) automatic metro technologies, with human action permanently controlled by ATP (Automated Train Protection) in order to ensure total reliability and safety of operation. Thus, at 200 metres from the stations, the trains assist the driver by aligning themselves exactly in front of the platform screen doors. Thanks to these technologies, the line has gained 4km/h of commercial speed compared to a conventional line, a considerable advantage for regularity.
When Saudi Arabia designs a sustainable tourist tramway
The latest country to opt for tramways is Saudi Arabia, which is preparing for the post-hydrocarbon era by multiplying its investments under the Vision 2030 plan, including a new city with Neom, and the exploitation of its historical and archaeological heritage in the Hedjaz at AlUla. To serve the archaeological and cultural sites as well as the future agricultural and residential development zone designed to boost activity there, the studies for a tram-train like no other were awarded this summer to SYSTRA by the Royal Commission For AlUla (RCU).
The first phase of the programme includes the creation of a 21-km line linking the historic AlUla Hijaz station to Hegra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the north, with 15 stations, thanks to a tramway platform without catenary, battery-powered trains that can be recharged by induction, and above all thanks to a unique landscape and architectural design that will enable passengers to travel through time and across eras. Passengers will be able to explore the history of the Kingdom's civilisations from the tramway, combining culture and mobility with the lowest possible carbon impact, with a maximum speed limit of 50km/h.
SYSTRA is responsible for all the preliminary and detailed studies, including infrastructure, depot, stations, track, bridges, systems integration and rolling stock design, right up to the preparation and awarding of tenders for procurement and construction. Our teams will be contributing to other projects underway in the area, such as the Al Sharaan hotel by prestigious architect Jean Nouvel, which is due to open in 2023.
Light rail systems are only just beginning to take off in the Middle East. With more than a dozen cities with more than one million inhabitants and a population growth rate of over 2%, cities are increasingly faced with the challenge of implementing efficient, sustainable collective mobility solutions that can ensure a concrete modal shift.
In Dubai, our client RTA is still planning to extend the Al Sufouh tramway. In Qatar, our Lead Design assignment, carried out for more than 10 years with the Franco-Qatari consortium QDVC (Qatar Diar Vinci Construction grands projects), has come to an end, but a large part of the Lusail network remains to be commissioned. And in Saudi Arabia, other major cities could be inspired by AlUla to also equip themselves with a tramway, which in the Middle east seems to be the way forward.