Saudi Arabia to build $22bn Riyadh metro

Design of Kafd Metro station, Riyadh by Zaha Hadid Design of Kafd Metro station, Riyadh by Zaha Hadid

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The Saudi government has announced it will spend $22bn (£14bn) on a metro system for the capital Riyadh.

Officials say the project, said to be the largest public transport initiative in the world, will have six lines and will help boost the economy.

Among the winning designs for the main stations were those of the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid.

Construction on the metro will begin early next year, with the trains running by 2019.

Analysis

This metro project is a statement of intent from the Saudi authorities and King Abdullah. Not only will it generate jobs and boost the economy, the project sends a message to other Gulf Cooperation Council nations that Saudi Arabia will not be left behind in the drive to create a public transportation network. The Saudis like the other GCC countries are using more and more of their oil and gas to meet growing domestic demand. Hydrocarbons are heavily subsidised in the Gulf and sold well below world market prices. Projects like the metro are intended to curb a growing domestic appetite for cheap hydrocarbons and encourage more sustainable means of transportation.

The president of the Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA) Ibrahim bin Mohammed al Sultan said the Riyadh Public Transport Project will be "a major driver of employment and economic development".

He called it a "cornerstone" that would "enhance the quality of life" for Riyadh's population of nearly six million.

Cambridge University Gulf expert Jim Krane told the BBC that the metro made sense for Saudi Arabia.

"The Saudi government has a liquidity problem - the price of oil has been high but returns on investment in the foreign market are low," he said.

"So there's lots of cash and the need to spend it. What better way to do that than on infrastructure?"

The Riyadh metro, with more than 180km of track, will dwarf Dubai's metro.

Mr Krane, author of Dubai: The Story of the World's Fastest City, says the Saudi government has long viewed Riyadh as the potential capital of a unified Gulf region incorporating the current six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

"The Saudi argument is that Riyadh is rather what Brussels is (to the EU) and a regional capital must have the amenities," he said.

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