Most Influential Projects 2021

07 Riyadh Metro

Two state-of-the-art, autonomous trains

For introducing the power of public transportation to Saudi Arabia’s largest city

Despite its surging size—expected to hit population of a 8.3 million by 2030—Riyadh had no public transportation system. Residents in Saudi Arabia’s biggest city relied mostly on private cars, racking up an estimated 10 million motorized passenger journeys each year, fueling traffic jams and air pollution.

But a sprawling, state-of-the-art commuter network aims to transform mobility in the kingdom’s capital city. Riyadh Metro, which is scheduled to open this year, consists of six autonomous train lines spanning 176 kilometers (109 miles). And it’s just one part of the world’s largest public transportation initiative, which includes 956 buses covering 1,150 kilometers (715 miles). 

With so much ground to cover, the government authorized a divide-and-conquer plan for the US$23 billion, seven-year metro megaproject, with each of the three sections completed by a global consortium of engineering companies and contractors. The first two lines, completed by Bechtel, Almabani General Contractors, Consolidated Contractors Co. and Siemens, make up 36 percent of the lines and 40 percent of the stations. 

Line three—the longest, with 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) of underground tunnels—was tackled by a group that included Webuild Group, Larsen & Toubro, Nesma, Hitachi Rail, Bombardier Transportation, Idom and Worley. Lines four, five and six, with 29.8 kilometers (18.5 miles) of viaducts and 26.6 kilometers (16.5 miles) of underground track, were completed by FCC Construction, Samsung C&T, Alstom, Strukton Civiel, Freyssinet Saudi Arabia, Atkins, Tecnica Y Proyectos and Setec

The project will efficiently move residents from point to point, but just as crucially, it will do so in an eco-friendly way—helping the kingdom move toward its Vision 2030 plan that calls for reducing the nation’s dependence on oil and creating a more sustainable future. 

The latter goal is reflected in Downtown Station, designed by the Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta. Located near the governor’s palace, the 20,000-square-meter (215,278-square-foot) station includes a reflective stainless-steel canopy that provides shade over public spaces and funnels indirect light into the metro station below. Another touch of green: Irrigation channels line the plaza floor, providing an elegant water feature that also supports interior planting. And solar panels atop system stations are designed to generate 20 percent of each facility’s electricity needs.

Even though the project finished one year behind schedule, the government took action to maintain public buy-in throughout. For instance, it launched an interactive exhibition that showed residents how Riyadh Metro would work and how it would improve the lives for commuters. 

Such efforts will likely pay off. Riyadh Metro’s network is expected to initially attract 1.16 million passengers a day and can accommodate 3.6 million passengers, leaving plenty of room for growth.