$200bn worth of rail and metro projects planned in Middle East

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Updated 12 October 2014
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$200bn worth of rail and metro projects planned in Middle East

The MENA region is experiencing an unprecedented spate of rail investment. From Africa’s first high-speed rail network in Morocco to Oman’s first ever rail scheme, billions of dollars are being invested in rail and metro projects for the first time.
Today, every country has announced rail or metro plans and in total there are more than $200 billion worth of rail and metro projects either planned or under way in the Middle East. This translates to more than 33,700 km of mainline routes and 3,000 km of new metro lines.
The award of major metro and rail contracts in the Middle East has made the region among the most important sources of new work for all those designing, building, supplying and operating railways.
“The Middle East is perhaps the fastest growing market for rail and transit in the world,” says Cosema Crawford, senior vice president and rail and transit global practice leader at Louis Berger.
“Cities are growing and mobility is increasing, driving the need for robust public transportation networks. High-speed rail networks are being built in great numbers, particularly in China, which now boasts about half of the world’s systems,” adds Crawford, who will be speaking at the 10th annual MEED MENA Rail & Metro Summit, which opens in Dubai next month. An increasing number of system suppliers have entered the market, which should help stabilize pricing,” he added.
More than 250 delegates and guests are expected to attend the conference scheduled from Oct. 20-22, at the Conrad Hotel in Dubai with global experts providing tactical insights on challenges and opportunities confronting the metro and rail sector across the region. Among those who have confirmed include Ramiz Al-Assar, World Bank resident adviser to the GCC on railway projects.
Crawford will also speak at the conference’s focus day about high-speed rail in the region. The sector is booming across the world, and the Middle East can learn important lessons from the experiences of others.
High-speed rail, seen in the Middle East as an innovation, has an extensive history. Confidence is now growing in its capacity to reach new levels of performance and speed. “Japan is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Shinkansen this year, and it is developing the next generation of maglev trains, which will travel at 500 km an hour between Tokyo and Osaka,” Crawford adds. “Louis Berger is involved in bringing the same maglev technology to the United States providing one hour service from Washington DC to New York.”
Crawford says that demand for high-speed rail solutions will increase for more than one reason. “High-speed rail popularity will grow as a better and significantly greener alternative to air and car travel,” she says. “As confidence grows in ridership and revenue figures, PPP opportunities will develop as well.”
The GCC’s first high-speed railway is the 450 km Haramain High Speed Rail project that links Jeddah with Makkah, Madinah and Rabigh. It is scheduled to open in 2015 and will break the mold for the Middle East. Also due to open the same year is Morocco’s TGV network from Tangiers to Casablanca, which will be the first high-speed rail technology to be employed on the African continent.
“As traffic congestion continues to grow, public transportation networks become essential, including intercity travel on high-speed rail,” says Crawford about the need for new transport solutions in the region.
“High-speed rail is ultimately an instrument for development, and the costs for implementation should be considered and financed in that light. High-speed rail systems are dependent on good local public transportation networks to take riders to their final destinations. Most importantly, there needs to be a cultural shift to accept public transportation systems,” Crawford says.
“Seasonal high temperatures and lack of pedestrian infrastructure need to be addressed in the design of the stations,” he added.
The engineering challenges are also formidable. “High-speed rail requires straight alignments in order to maintain speed. Developed areas may have difficulty identifying suitable corridors, resulting in compromises on speed, substantial property takings, or extensive tunneling, with the latter two adding to the cost and schedule. True high-speed rail cannot co-exist with other rail modes on the same tracks, such as freight rail,” Crawford says.
“In addition, special solutions are required to maintain the required level of track integrity over long distances of desert conditions with blowing sand,” he added.


Selling sketches and clothes, Libyan women set up businesses against the odds

Updated 25 June 2019
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Selling sketches and clothes, Libyan women set up businesses against the odds

  • Libya has only a tiny private sector and the economy is dominated by the state
  • Cumulative inflation over the last four years has seen real incomes lose more than half of their purchasing power

TRIPOLI: When inflation began eating into her state-paid salary Libyan architect and assistant professor Seham Saleh started selling drawings over the Internet to help pay the bills.
She joins a growing number of Libyan women launching start-ups in the conservative Arab country, where many still think a woman’s place is in the home but where the strains on personal and family income following years’ of political chaos have forced women to look for more work.
Libya has only a tiny private sector, which means there is a market for locally-produced goods. The economy is dominated by the state, which employs most adults under a structure set up by Muammar Qaddafi, who was toppled in 2011.
Men are the traditional breadwinners, although around 30 percent of women were in the labor force as of 2015, according to a UN report.
“I cannot live on my assistant professor salary of 1,000 dinars ($256) even if it is paid out,” said Saleh. She has been selling drawings of people in Libyan dress or book marks she created on a computer.
“Thank God... people wanted to buy the products,” she said. She also does freelance work as an architect.
Once one of the richest countries in the region, the chaos and civil war that ensued after the fall of Qaddafi has seen Libya’s living standards erode. Little is now produced in Libya other than oil, even milk is imported from Europe.
Cumulative inflation over the last four years has seen real incomes lose more than half of their purchasing power, and the government effectively devalued the dinar last September.
A cash crisis means public servants often do not get their salaries paid out in full. Lenders have no cash deposits as the rich prefer to hold their cash themselves, rather than deposit it in a bank.
Women rarely had jobs outside of sectors such as teaching, although the need for more family income has changed the situation, said Jasmin Khoja, head of a women’s business support venture.
Her organization, the Jusoor center for studies and development, has trained some 33 would-be female entrepreneurs, offers legal advice and office space as women often can’t afford their own.
While Seham’s “Naksha” art business is in its early stages, others such as Najwa Shoukri’s start-up are growing fast. She started designing clothes from home in 2016, and selling them online.
Now, together with five other women, she has a workshop selling 50 pieces a month and plans to open a shop next year on Jaraba Street, the main fashion shopping avenue in Tripoli.
To make the shop a success her output would have to rise to 150 pieces a month. Her brother and family have contributed to investments worth 10,000 dinars.
The biggest challenges for start-ups are legal hurdles and the lack of electronic payment systems.
Some Libyan commercial laws go back to the 1960s and are aimed at big corporations such as oil firms, not start-ups. Under these regulations firms need to deposit thousands of dinars.
“Banks do not give loans, which stops projects and makes them unable to grow or employ other women and young people,” Khoja said.
Undeterred, Mayaz Elahshmi started a business last week training women to fix computers and smartphones.
“There is big demand as many women are reluctant to go to a phone shop where men work, as they have personal files on their phones.”
Six people came to her first training session, each paying 30 dinars.