Hill Doha Metro Project (Photo Gallery)

Doha Metro :With a population of just above 1 million and despite being the Middle East’s second-smallest country,Qatar has never stopped short of thinking ‘big’ and setting ambitious targets for itself.

A prime driver has been the monetisation of its mammoth natural gas reserves – the third-largest in the world after Iran and Russia – at the offshore North Field that has fuelled both unparalled hydrocarbon and non-hydrocarbon developments.

In late 2011, Doha achieved two major targets: emerging as the world’s leading liquefied natural gas (LNG) producer; and also winning the bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022.

Qatar earned the distinction of being the first Middle Eastern nation that will play host to such asporting event. And since winning the bid, it has rolled out a series of infrastructure development projects.

US-based Hill International will also be a part of that mega process, with the company being awarded in August 2012 a contract by the Qatar Railways Company (Qrail) to provide project management services in connection with construction of the Green Line, one of four lines of the new Doha Metro transit system. The four-year contract has an estimated value to Hill of about US$59 million.

Phase 1 of the project involves construction of an 19-km track starting from Mushaireb station and moving north through Al-Diwan and then west through stations at Al-Rayyan/C-Ring, Al-Rayyan/Sports,Al-Rayyan/Al-Messila, Al- Rayyan/Al-Qadeem, Education City South East, Qatar Convention Centre,Education City Station and beyond to an at-grade transition.

Put simply, the Green Line connects the heart of Doha with the Qatar Convention Center and the Education City and includes 27 kms of subway tunnel, six underground stations, 6 kms of elevated guideway and two elevated stations.

“We are responsible for providing project management services,” says Samer Tamimi, a vice-president with Hill International.

Tunnelling model

The Doha venture will be built using the tunnel boring machine (TBM), rather than the cut-and-cover method.

“Tunnels will be bored using a tunnel-boring machine (TBM), which is a device used to excavate tunnels with a circular cross section through various types of soil strata. TBMs have the advantages of limiting disturbance to the surrounding ground, which makes them suitable to use in heavily urbanized areas, like Doha,” he says.

Also, TBM operation has minimal traffic disruption and less impact on the environment in terms of dust and noise emissions and visual impact, Tamimi says.

However, it takes at least one year to procure and mobilize a TBM.For long tunnels with tight construction schedule such as the Doha Metro, it is cost effective to use tunnel boring machines as TBMs are much more efficient and results in a shorter project, Tamimi says, adding structures along the way will be monitored as the TBM’s advance to ensure settlement caused by works is negligible.

The action will be watched closely when work starts on the site soon, but according to him one challenge the project will face is the strict time schedule and the logistics required for such a massive venture.

“Doha metro is the largest metro facility being built in the region and four lines are to be built (Green,Red, Blue and Gold) at the same time. Undertaking such a project within the time constraints represents a major challenge,” he says.

In late November, international and regional contractors submitted bids for the Green Line and the expectation is of an award by March.

Global standing

Meanwhile, comparing Qatar’s metro project with other such facilities in the West, he says Qatar has adopted European and International standards for building its rail system.

“The challenges are more or less the same. However, GCC projects have generally ambitious schedule, which adds to the complexity,” he says.

Outside of Qatar, but within the GCC, the expectation is for the oil-rich nations to embark on massive rail projects aimed at moving both industrial and consumer goods and people, besides heavy equipment to support its oil and gas projects.

Every GCC country has developed plans for rail projects and they include both passenger and cargo systems. In addition, the GCC countries have also jointly developed plans for a rail link to connect all the member states, with Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Rail due to launch its second phase that will be part of a pan-GCC railway system, Tamimi says.

“Like most other mass public transport systems, metro and rail projects in the Middle East are unlikely to be profitable and will rely on government subsidies,” he says.

However, metro project become feasible when other indirect factors are considered: minimizing traffic jams; reducing noise and air pollution; and reducing the need for construction of new roads and widening and improving existing roads.

“Another major benefit is boosting tourism. Dubai built the first metro project in the Middle East when they realized the revenues generated from tourism and the importance of having a strong transportation system for a healthy tourism. For Qatar, the Doha metro is essential for moving the masses for the 2022 World Cup,” Tamimi says.

Hill’s changing role

The award of the Doha Green Line metro contract came at a time when Hill International – with over 20 years of operations in the Middle East – is going striking new roots in the region, particularly the transportation and infrastructure development sectors.

Last year, the company was awarded contracts to manage the construction of two airports in Oman, the mid-field terminal for the Abu Dhabi international airport and the expansion of the Bahrain international airport, to name a few.

“The focus shifted recently to meet the new market demands, as the real estate sector has slowed down in several GCC countries. The global financial crisis has resulted in a very cautious approach to new investment, especially in the UAE, and definitely has a significant slowdown in the award of new construction projects. The current market studies show that supply outstrips demand, and that the development will be limited to malls and hotels,” says Tamimi.

“Our focus has recently shifted to airport, rail system and other infrastructure projects. In addition, we have recently focused on health care and education projects, besides we are also currently managing several hospitals, clinics, healthcare facilities and educational facilities in the region,” he says.

For its part, Hill International will bring to the table several new offerings while managing the new infrastructure contracts.

“We are client focused. The fact that a substantial part of our current work is from repeated business is a testimony of client satisfaction,” he says, stressing local experience should not be underestimated.

Knowing the local players, stakeholders and rules and regulations is crucial for the successful completion in any construction project.

The new projects will not be without their fair share of challenges, however.

Spending on construction is highly influenced by exogenous factors, primarily oil prices. Also, political stability in the areas surrounding the GCC countries has an impact on investor perception and generally has a negative impact on the construction industry. Volatility of construction material prices constitutes another risk factor, Tamimi says.

From a construction management standpoint, the main challenge is the magnitude of most construction projects in the region and the timeline allowed to complete such facilities.

But, infrastructure growth is still required to keep pace with a fast-growing population in the Gulf.

Hill International offering for Railway Gazzette on Doha Metro


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