'Space stations' to transform Riyadh in mega metro project

Story highlights

  • $22 billion project to build new metro network in Saudi Arabian capital
  • 85 stations and 176 km of train lines will be built over five years
  • Currently only 2% of commuters in Riyadh use public transport
  • Zaha Hadid Architects have designed one of the flag-ship stations

Can car-loving Saudis be convinced to step out of their air-conditioned comfort and take public transport?

The Saudi Arabian government believes they can and is backing its belief by investing $22 billion into a public transport mega-project in the capital Riyadh.

Set to begin construction early next year, a new metro network will encompass over 176 km (110 miles) of train lines and 85 stations, linking the city center to universities, the airport, a newly built financial district and commercial areas.

The first trains as slated to run in 2019. During construction, it will be the world's biggest public transport project, employing tens of thousands of people, developers say.

According to the High Commission for the Development of Arriyadh, all carriages will be air-conditioned and divided into first, family and single class.

Buses and trains take a distant second to personal cars in Riyadh and according to FCC Construction only 2% of commuters in the Saudi Arabian capital take public transport.

It's no surprise because gasoline is highly subsidized -- a gallon at the petrol pumps costs around $0.50. According to Bloomberg, the world's largest oil producer ranks only second to Venezuela for the world's cheapest gasoline. According to reports, the Saudi government is weighing up increasingly the cost of fuel to give public transport a boost.

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Chronically underdeveloped until now, the expansion of public transport in the Saudi capital will also cope with the projected boom in the local population. It has more than doubled since 1990 to 5.3 million and is set to top 8 million by 2030.

"Riyadh today is one of the world's fastest growing cities and our citizens deserve a world-class public transport system to enhance their quality of life... it will also help to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality," said Ibrahim Bin Muhammad Al Sultan President of Arriyadh Development Authority and Member of the High Commission for the Development of Arriyadh.

Of the six lines to be built, three will be constructed by Spain's FCC Construction company, working in partnership in a consortium including Samsung and Alstom. U.S. Firm Bechtel and Italian company Ansaldo STS lead the other two construction consortia.

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As well as an extensive network, it is hoped that the stunning look of some the new stations will help to tempt locals away from their cars.

Zaha Hadid Architects will build the King Abdullah Financial District station, one of the flagship interchange stops along Line 1. With six platforms spread over four floors, and linking three of the new lines, the architects hope it will provide a multi-function public space.

According to the architects, the white facade of the station will reduce heat from the punishing desert sun while the undulating lines of the building are meant to resemble the patterns generated by desert winds on sand dunes.