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Public transport in Saudi Arabia: Priority sector for government investment [free access]

December 1, 2016

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has had private automobile as the dominant mode of urban transport since long and this has led to congestion, pollution, road accidents and loss of productive time. Recently, the national government announced mega projects to develop integrated and modern public transport systems in major cities. The global economic slump caused downsizing of some of these plans but the announcement from the government to fund the projects from its own resources has kick started the works. Saudi Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) was established after intensive efforts to create advanced concept of public transport in the country. It was inaugurated in 1979 Common Era/ Current Era (CE). SAPTCO connected 385 cities, villages, and small villages. It covers the five major cities of Saudi Arabia namely Riyadh, Mecca, Medina, Jeddah and Dammam.


In June 2016, Saudi Arabia's cabinet appointed the Saudi Railway Company (SAR) as the owner of railway infrastructure projects linking different cities of the country.



Riyadh is the capital and the largest city of Saudi Arabia, and the capital of Riyadh Province. It is situated in the centre of the Arabian Peninsula on a large plateau. It has a population of about 5.9 million (2012). The city is divided into 15 municipal districts. It is one of the richest cities in the Middle East. A dynamic metropolis, it is a travel, trade, finance and business hub, and the administrative capital of the country. It is also home to the headquarters of many companies and banks. The Riyadh metropolitan area has a population of 7 million (2012).


Public transport systems in the city

In November 2016, the Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA) began studying the potential locations for transit-oriented development (TOD) projects in the city. The company is studying the requirements to implement the project.



Dammam-Riyadh passenger railway line – It spans 449 km and covers four stations. Saudi Railways Organisation (SRO) is operating the service since 1981.


Bus – The bus network is rudimentary. A central bus terminal is located in the Aziziyah district, which is 17 km away from the city centre.



Riyadh Light Metro – It will comprise six lines, which will together span 177.8 km and cover 85 stations. Construction is underway and is expected to be completed by 2019 at a cost of USD23 billion, which will be borne by the ADA. The ridership is expected to be 1,500 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd) initially and up to 8,000 pphpd in future. Table 1 provides the details.


Table1: Riyadh Metro system facts


Length (km)

No. of stations

Line 1



Line 2



Line 3



Line 4



Line 5



Line 6



Source: Global Mass Transit Research


Riyadh Monorail - It will span 3.6 km and cover 6 stations. Al Ra'idah Investment Company is the developer. The ridership is expected to be 3,000 passengers per hour. The system is currently under construction.


Riyadh BRT - Riyadh bus network (including BRT) will comprise 22 lines that will together span 1,200 km and cover 6,765 stops. It is being developed by the ADA as the main feeder of the Riyadh Metro. Of the total bus network, it is planned that three lines of a total length of 85 km will commence service by 2017.


Dammam-Riyadh passenger railway line: Upgradation works are underway to replace level crossings with bridges. In 2014, the SRO awarded a USD1.6-million contract to a consortium led by Spanish firm Consultrans to study alignments for a high-speed line linking Riyadh and Dammam.


Recent contracts awarded

In July 2016, FCC, through its industrial division, secured a EUR300-million contract to implement the electromechanical (E&M) installation works including lighting, ventilation and fire and air conditioning systems for Lines 5 and 6 of the Riyadh Metro. The work is to be completed in a period of 36 months.


In July 2016, Germany-based lift manufacturer Thyssenkrupp secured a contract for the design, manufacture, supply, installation and maintenance of 641 elevators and escalators for Lines 1 and 2 of the Riyadh Metro.


Recent developments

In November 2016, Italy-based Salini Impregilo announced that a tunnel boring machine (TBM) had excavated a 4.34-km tunnel of Riyadh Metro Line 3 (Orange Line) and reached Downtown station. The Impregilo-led Arriyadh New Mobility (ANM) consortium secured the contract to construct Line 3 in 2013.


In September 2016, Siemens unveiled the first driverless metro train for the Riyadh Metro Line 1 (Blue Line). The train has four cars, is 75.5 metres long and has capacity to accommodate 522 passengers (123 seated), six sets of sliding plug doors, and two compact heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) units. In each train, three vehicles are motorised and each motor bogie is driven by two self-ventilated 1TB 20 series traction motors without speed sensors. Two trains are undergoing trial at Wildenrath in northwest Germany.


In June 2016, tunnelling work on Line 5 was completed. Herrenknecht supplied two, 19-metre wide tunnel boring machines (TBMs) for Line 5 and three additional TBMs for the remaining project. In the same month, Alstom began laying the track on the elevated section of Line 4. The company holds a EUR1.2-billion share in the EUR5.8-billion design-build contract secured by the FAST consortium in 2013 for Lines 4, 5 and 6. The consortium is led by FCC and includes Samsung, Freyssinet Saudi Arabia, Strukton, Setec and Typsa.


In February 2016, Siemens unveiled the first Inspiro train set for Riyadh Metro at its facility in Simmering, Vienna. The trains will have a maximum speed of 90 km/hr and feature powerful air-conditioning and bogies; traction equipment; brakes and doors.



Jeddah, located on the coast of the Red Sea, is the largest city in Mecca province, the largest seaport on the Red Sea, and the second largest city in Saudi Arabia after the capital city, Riyadh. It has a population of over 5 million. The city is a centre for trade and is considered to be the commercial capital of Saudi Arabia. It is a key export point for petrochemical products and home to many large companies and banks. It has a strong manufacturing base, particularly in food processing and consumer products. Jeddah attracts a large number of pilgrims, welcoming about 11 million visitors each year. While the bulk of the visitors arrive during Hajj, the minor pilgrimage or Umrah provides a steady stream of visitors.


There is a growing demand for developing and expanding the transport infrastructure in Jeddah, especially given the rapid population growth – the population has increased from 1.3 million in 1978 to over 5 million at present and is expected to increase further to 6.3 million in 2033.


Public transport system


Currently, there is no organised public transport system in Jeddah.



The national government has initiated a plan to develop a public transport system comprising metro, buses and ferries, at an investment of SAR48 billion by 2020. All rail and bus projects in the city are being developed by Metro Jeddah Company (MJC), a public-private body established and owned by the Jeddah Development and Urban Regeneration Company. In July 2015, MJC invited expressions of interest (EoI) in the civil works contract for the upcoming metro network, prequalification for a separate contract to design and build its planned light-rail and tram lines, and the provision of overall project management services.


Jeddah Metro – The system will comprise four lines, which will together span 149.8 km and cover 85 stations. Table 2 gives the details.


Table 2: Jeddah Metro system facts


Network length (km)



Expected opening


58.0 (15 km underground)

North-south, along King Abdulaziz Road and King Abdullah Road




33.3 (7 km underground)

City centre-airport




16.5 (14 km underground)

Through the city centre




42.0 (8 km underground)

North-south, along Al Madinah Road and Old Makkah Road








Source: Global Mass Transit Research


The metro project includes the following:



Funding: The estimated investment for the project is USD11.9 billion. It will be funded by the national government.


Rolling stock and technology: A fleet of 49 trains will be deployed. The trains will have a maximum speed of 100 km/hr and a commercial speed of 57.2 km/hr. A communications-based train control (CBTC) system will be deployed for signalling. Tracks will be standard gauge (1,435 mm). Power will be sourced at 750 V DC. The MJC has invited pre-qualification bids for the supply of rolling stock and technology and the contract is expected to be awarded by end-2016.


Fare system: Smartcards and integrated ticketing will be introduced. A flat fare will be adopted.


Light-rail transit (LRT) system – The project will comprise three lines. Line 1 will span 17 km through Sari Street and cover 19 stations. Line 2 will span 11 km through Altahlia Street and cover 9 stations. Line 3 will span 9 km through Falastin Street and cover 11 stations. It is planned to be extended to span 37 km under Phase II. 


Corniche Tram – The system will span 16 km in Jeddah northern Corniche and cover 15 stations, serving a 30-km-long resort area stretching along the Red Sea coast. 


Commuter Rail – The commuter rail network will span 159 km and cover 24 stations. It will connect North Obhur and the Jeddah city centre, along the Al Haramain high-speed railway tracks. It will also provide connection to the tramway and the metro rail. 


Bus system – An expansive and organised bus system is planned. It will comprise routes of a total length of 400 km through residential neighbourhoods, a 27-km bus rapid transit (BRT) network and 261-km of fast line routes along the main roads. There will be about 724 bus stops. 


Other projects – A nation-wide railway expansion plan is underway to make trains more accessible for the general population. The Ministry of Transport is implementing the programme, which includes the Al Haramain high-speed railway (HSR) project. 


The HSR line will span 450 km linking the holy cities of Mecca and Madinah via Jeddah with five new stations. The two stations in Jeddah will include the King Abdul Aziz International Airport and the Al Sulaimaniya district. The speed of the trains will be about 350 km/hr. The travel time between Madinah and Jeddah would be around 2-and-a-half hours, and that between Mecca and Jeddah will be less than 30 minutes.


In November 2016, Saudi Railways Organisation (SRO) allocated additional funding of USD158 million for the Haramain high-speed rail (HSR) Phase II to the Al-Shoula consortium (comprising Talgo, Indra, Dimetronic, Renfe, Adif and Obrascon Huarte Lain (OHL) to cover the cost escalation due to delays in payment. The HSR project is expected to be completed by March 2018.


The Al-Shoula consortium secured the USD7.9-billion contract for the rolling stock and systems for the rail project in 2012. The scope of work includes construction of the railway tracks, installation of telecommunication and signalling system, electrification, construction of the operations control centre, supply of 35 trains as well as the operations and maintenance for a period of 12 years. The total cost of Phase II is estimated to be USD11billion.



Mecca, also known as Makkah, is the most important holy city for Muslims. It is the capital of the Al-Hejaz province of Saudi Arabia. The city has a population of 1.7 million (April 2015) and is located 72 km east of Jeddah, the port city on the Red Sea, and about 485 km south of Medina. The most important site in Mecca is the Grand Mosque in the centre of the city. Each year, about 3 million Hajj pilgrims and another 5 million Umrah visitors arrive in the city. By 2029, the resident population is expected to grow to 2.2 million, Hajj pilgrims to 6.5 million and Umrah visitors to 10.8 million. The city’s economy depends on the annual pilgrimage.


Public transport system


Current network

The main modes of travel within and around the city are personal vehicles and private taxis.


Mecca Metro – The system comprises one line, which spans 18 km and covers nine stations. It is also called the Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro. It connects the holy sites of Mecca, Mount Arafat, Muzdalifah and Mina. Service started in November 2010. The system reached its full capacity of 72,000 pphpd in 2011.



In December 2012, the Government of Saudi Arabia committed SAR62 billion for a three-phase plan to develop the city’s bus and metro networks under the Mecca Public Transport Programme.  But in May 2016, the USD16.5-billion mass transit project, involving the development of a metro rail system and a bus network, planned for the city was stalled due to financial restructuring. The new budget constraints led to modifications in the design of the metro stations.


Mecca Metro – The expansion plans include developing a network of four lines, which will together span 182.3 km and cover 88 stations. In May 2016, the owner of Mecca Metro, Makkah Mass Rail Transit, announced that the Mecca Metro project is of the highest priority for the government.


The project received a boost in April 2016, when Riyadh Vision 2030 identified Mecca Metro as a priority project to improve transport and other facilities at holy sites to increase the number of Umrah pilgrims from 8 million to 30 million a year. Table 3 indicates the planned network.


Table 3: Planned network for Mecca Metro



Length (km)


Line A

Al-Laith Road to Al-Sail Road



Line B

Al-Jamarat station (terminus of Al-Mashaaer Line) to Makkah Jeddah Expressway



Line C

Al-Madinah Road to Umm al-Qura University



Line D

Old Jeddah Makkah Road to Ibrahim Khalil Road







Source: Global Mass Transit Research


The Mecca Public Transport Programme proposes the development of a 123.5-km long metro network covering 66 stations.


The project will be executed in three phases. Plans to develop the project on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis were dropped after the government agreed to fund the project. Table 4 provides details of three phases.


Table 4: Details of the three phases



Length (km)


Duration (years)


(SAR billion)


Line B (11.9 km with 7 stations) and Line C (33.2 km with 15 stations)






Line A






Line D





Extension of Line C









Source: Global Mass Transit Research


In Phase I, Line B will span 11.9 km (underground) from Jamrat to the Makkah-Jeddah Expressway, covering seven stations.


Line C will span 33.2 km from Madinah Road to the west of the Grand Mosque and Umm Al-Qura University, covering 15 stations. Phase I is expected to be completed by 2019.


Recent developments

The USD16.5-billion mass transit project, which involves the development of a metro rail system and a bus network, has been stalled due to ongoing financial restructuring. The new budget constraints have also led to modifications in the design of the metro stations.



Medina (also known as Al-Mad─źnah Al-Munawwarah), is a city in the Hejaz, and the capital of the Al Madinah Region of Saudi Arabia. Medina is 340 km (210 miles) north of Mecca and about 190 km (120 miles) from the Red Sea coast. It is situated in the most fertile part of all the Hejaz territory. In addition to being the second most important Islamic pilgrimage destination after Mecca, it is an important regional capital of the western Saudi Arabian province of Al Madinah.


Public transport system


Planned network

The Medina Metro is planned to have three lines, which will together span 95 km (25-km underground). In November 2013, the Saudi cabinet announced that a metro would be built within eight years.


In March 2015, the Madinah Metro Development Authority (MMDA) awarded a 12-month contract to a France-based consortium of Egis and Systra to carry out feasibility studies and preliminary design for the planned 95-km, three-line metro system in the city. The contract also included preparation of tender documents for the upcoming design-and-build contracts.


Al-taif (Taif)

Taif is a city in Mecca Province of Saudi Arabia at an elevation of 1,879 metres on the slopes of Sarawat Mountains. It has a population of 1.2 million. It is a junction of several regions in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as a tourist destination. During the summer, and during Hajj and Umrah, the number of passenger trips grows exponentially.


Taif has no public transport system. The Municipality of Taif has announced plans to construct a light-rail transit (LRT) system, which will span 130 km and cover 93 stations. Consulting Engineering Group (CEG) Ksa will provide consultancy services for the project.


Projects in other major cities (intercity projects)

Dammam-Qatif Metro

In May 2014, Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers authorised the establishment of an integrated public transport system comprising metro and buses in Dammam and Qatif at a cost of about USD16 billion.


The project will have two main lines, one will connect Dareen Island to Qatif through Dammam and Dhahran up to King Fahd Causeway (which links Saudi Arabia with Bahrain) and the second will connect King Fahd Road in Dammam to the King Fahd International airport in the west.


Riyadh-Dammam HSR

In 2013, SRO announced plans to construct a 480-km long HSR line between Riyadh and Dammam and invited bids for consultancy studies. In 2014, a consortium led by Spain-based Consultrans signed a USD1.8-million contract to study options for construction. In February 2015, Talgo secured a USD200-million contract to supply six 350-series high-speed trains but the contract was later cancelled because SRO wanted to re-evaluate its rolling stock requirements. The trains will run at a speed of 300 km/hr and reduce the journey time to one and a half hours.


(1 EUR [Euro] = 1.06 USD; 1 SAR [Saudi Riyal] = 0.27 USD)