UAE FIRST NATIONAL RAIL NETWORK TO ‘TRANSFORM THE ECONOMY’ AND KEY ROLE IN REDUCING CARBON FOOTPRINT
Engineers in the Hajar Mountains between Dubai and Fujairah are making way for 16 Kilometers of tunnel, which will one day see trains shooting through it on a journey that stretches from coast to coast, and even possibly further afield.
The UAE is known for its love of cars as well as its strategic ports and airports, but now is betting big on its first national rail network. The 1,2000-kilometre artery will connect the Gulf of Oman to the Persian Gulf, down through the emirates, into Abu Dhabi’s interior and to Ghuweifat on the border of Saudi Arabia, a key step in a long-mooted rail network crossing the Arabia peninsula.
“The top line implication … is that it has the potential to transform the UAE economy — and not just the UAE, but potentially the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council],” says Richard Thompson, editorial director of the Middle East Economic Digest.
GOING GREEN WITH SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT
But the move also signals the country’s green ambitions. The UAE has one of the world’s largest footprints per capita, according to the World Bank, and sustainable transport is one way the government plans to reduce it.
The diesel rail line could save 2.2 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year through its freight capacity alone, says the developer. That’s equivalent to taking 375,000 vehicles off the road and even has the potential to electrify in the future, which would massively benefit the environment by cutting emissions further by using renewable energy.
“I think rail has a huge role to play in helping the UAE reduce its carbon footprint,” says Thompson. “Rail can provide a much more efficient mode of transport for goods and people movement around cities; it can help your cities function better.”
Led by Etihad Rail and funded by the UAE Ministry of Finance and the Abu Dhabi Department of Finance, it has been designed first for freight, and passenger capacity to follow. There is no completion date announced just yet, through “the network is growing as planned” with all contracts awarded, Etihad Rail told CNN.
The network will include links to Jebel Ali Port, Khalifa Port and the Port of Fujairah and industrial hubs in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah. The route across the UAE, according to Thompson, when connected to an in-progress Saudi network could create a direct link from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea across the peninsula, bypassing the Straits of Hormuz to the north and the Horn of Africa to the south, with big repercussions for the movement of international cargo.
“You have a more efficient mode of transport, linking ports with each other and removing congestion on the roads and contributing to decarbonization,” he explains.
The executive director of commercial at Etihad Rail, Ahmed Al Musawa, expects 60 million metric tons of freight will move from road and sea to the rail network annually.
Beyond consolidating the UAE’s position as an international transport hub, there will be benefits at a national level too, Al Musawa says. Stage one of the network in Abu Dhabi has transported 33 million metric tons of sulfur since 2016 and has turned the UAE into the world’s largest exporter of the element, he says. Sulfur is used in the manufacturer of everything from fertiliser to paper.
Stage two, which stretches 367 miles began constructions earlier this year, could have even wider benefits.
Kevin Smith, the editor in chief of the International Railway Journal, identifies the railway as a “key strategy … to diversify (the UAE’s) economy slightly away from oil and gas.”
“I think the steel industry, oil and gas industry, then the mining and quarrying industry, should be the main beneficiaries,” says Thompson. “(The network) has the potential to integrate the northern emirate economies much closer into the national economy and accelerate growth and investment in those places.”
OFF THE ROADS TO THE RAILS?
It’s still unknown how the rail line will change the daily lives of the population. Passenger trains running at 124 miles per hour are touted by Etihad Rail – but no date has been announced. If the network follows through, it could change commuting forever.
“When you have direct, fast access, naturally that does change the way we perceive (distance), or we select where we live or work or study,” Al Musawa says. “The access to materials, services and markets can evolve around such a network.”
But will it convince Emiratis to swap their cars for trains? Thompson says there are some obstacles, including the “last mile problem” — getting people from their homes to train stations.
Walking in the summer sun isn’t an attractive option, but Al Musawa says ride-sharing and “other micro-mobility solutions” may be the answer, adding Etihad Rail is learning from other countries’ experiences.
“I think there’ll be great demand,” Smith argues. “Their whole cities are built around the car, but I think the popularity of the metro (in Dubai) has shown that people will use it if it’s there.”
Once considered a farfetched possibility by skeptics, global warming and climate change are now surfacing as palpable realities of the day. From wildfires in Australia to melting glaciers in Iceland, the year 2020 bid farewell to the hottest ever decade recorded on the planet. Fortunately, though, measures are being taken across all industries to curb our modern world’s carbon footprint, and the case of building and construction sector is no different.
According to a recent UNEP-supported report titled 2019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, construction sector in 2019 continued its notorious position as the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in 39% of the energy and process-related carbon emissions recorded during the year. The report further states that whilst as many as 136 countries have expressed intentions to work towards sustainable buildings, only a few have elaborated on tangible actions strategized to achieve such plans.
The global building stock is forecasted to grow twofold by 2050 as a direct consequence of increasing urbanization. If left unchecked, GHG emissions resulting from the building industry can rise to 50% of the global carbon emissions in the next three decades. While technological innovations have given way to reduced energy consumption, increasing cooling demand emerging from hot regions have overshadowed a significant positive trajectory. That said, countries across the world are increasingly targeting the urban built environment as a part of their national strategy towards a low-carbon future.
Within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, Qatar houses one of the highest collections of sustainable buildings. Concluding 2019, the country saw completion of more than 50 projects certified under the Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS) – MENA’s first performance-based assessment system for green buildings. Based on their overall sustainability credentials, projects registered under GSAS can achieve up to 5 Stars, representing the highest levels of sustainable features in terms of design and build. The award of final rating and certificates follows a comprehensive process whereby auditors from the Gulf Organisation for Research & Development (GORD) analyze several aspects of projects at multiple stages throughout the construction phase.
For the year 2019, here are some green projects successfully completed under GSAS.
During 2019, many recipients of outstanding sustainability ratings were linked with Qatar Rail’s Doha Metro project. With Mesheireb Station achieving the highest rating of 5 Stars, another 17 metro stations and 2 stabling yards at different locations within Doha received 4 Stars for their environmentally friendly design and build aspects. Doha Metro is by far the world’s first metro project with accredited sustainable certification specific to rating railway stations. This has been achieved through GSAS’ unique Railways Scheme that is used for rating the sustainability and ecological impacts of new main station buildings, including spaces that serve various functions of a metro station. According to Consolidated Contractors Company, sustainability of the project has been achieved through responsible site development, water saving, energy efficiency, materials selection, cultural and economic value support and innovation in design. Stations awarded GSAS accreditation during 2019 included those located in Msheireb Downtown, Ras Bu Abboud, Al Sadd, Al Sudan, Bin Mahmoud, Qatar University, Hamad International Airport Terminal 1, Al Doha Al Jadeda, Umm Ghuwailina, Ras Bu Fontas, Economic Zone, Al Wakrah, Al Bidda, Corniche, Hamad Hospital, Al Riffa, The White Palace and Education City.
Lusail City Projects:
A number of projects receiving green certifications during 2019 represented Lusail City – Qatar’s first smart city covering 38 square kilometers, that has mandated GSAS to ensure sustainability of all of its buildings. A flagship project of Qatari Diar, Lusail City has been dubbed as the “largest single sustainable development” ever undertaken in the State of Qatar. Use of native flora and water efficient landscaping mechanisms are some ways the city conserves water. Its integrated transport system reduces GHG emissions resulting from private vehicles. The city’s urban connectivity has been achieved through light rail, ample pedestrian walkways, bicycle tracks and park-and-ride facilities at the public transport stations. With a capacity to reduce up to 65 million tons of CO2 per annum, Lusail’s district cooling plant boasts of being one of the largest in the world. Other green credentials benefiting the entire city include a pneumatic waste collection system, sewage treatment plant and an interconnected natural gas network designed to cut down energy consumption.
Within Lusail, Marina Yacht Club Al Khaliji Tower received the highest sustainability rating of 4 Stars during 2019 followed by another 8 commercial, residential and mixed-use developments receiving 4, 3 and 2 stars. Once complete, the city will have the capacity to accommodate 200,000 residents, 170,000 employees and 80,000 visitors without significant impact on the environment.
Sustainable development is one of the four key pillars of Qatar National Vision 2030, a fact that has provided a natural impetus for public projects to be designed and constructed sustainably. Now, all government projects within Qatar are now mandated to pursue and achieve sustainability under GSAS certification system. To this end, health centers in Al Waab, Al Wajbah, Muaither and Qatar University were successfully completed with 3 Stars sustainability rating during 2019 under the supervision of Public Works Authority ‘Ashghal’. Interestingly, all projects undertaken by Ashghal have been designed and built following sustainability principles – a fact that has been reiterated by Ashghal’s President, Dr. Eng. Saad bin Ahmad Al Muhannadi, who recently emphasized that “Ashghal is implementing GSAS standards in all its public buildings in Qatar, specifically in educational and health buildings.” In the light of these comments, one can safely assume that the upcoming stock of health centers in Qatar will continue to have sustainability at the core of their design and construction.
Hamad Port Project Facilities:
Increasing Doha’s total port capacity, Hamad Port Project started operations in 2016. However, construction has been underway to develop new facilities aimed at enhancing the port’s functional efficiency. The year 2019 witnessed completion of multiple facilities inside the new port with sustainability certification. From accommodation and mosques to civil defense and business center buildings, 19 projects under the umbrella of Hamad Port received sustainability rating between 3 and 2 Stars. Development of the new port has followed comprehensive mechanisms aimed at preserving the environment. For instance, 39,117 mangroves, 14,252 sqm of sea grass and 11,595 hard corals were relocated prior to the construction phase. The relocated flora and fauna are being continuously monitored and have so far proven to be surviving.
Taking green sports infrastructure to another level, Al Janoub Stadium received GSAS 4 Stars during 2019, and rightly so. Soon to be a venue for FIFA 2022 World Cup games, the stadium consumes 30 percent less water in terms of international plumbing codes. More than 15% of its permanent building materials are made from recycled content and more than 85% of the waste generated during construction was processed to be reused or recycled, making it one of the most sustainable stadiums worldwide. Apart from Al Janoub, Qatar University’s Sports and Events Complex was another distinguishing project that received 4 Stars under GSAS Design & Build scheme.
In the traffic-choked megacity of Cairo, the historic Heliopolis district has long stood out for its leafy boulevards, but now construction crews are cutting new highways through it and uprooting its century-old trees.
As Egypt with its burgeoning population nears the milestone of 100 million people, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government is building a colossal new capital in the desert east of Cairo.
And at least six new highways leading there cut right through Heliopolis, an upmarket district with tree-lined streets laid out in the early 1900s in the style of a mini-European metropolis.
At least 390,000 square meters (96 acres) of green space – or more than 50 football fields – have been razed in the past four months, said activist group the Heliopolis Heritage Initiative (HHI).
One local writer decried what she graphically described as “the raping of a suburb … with its guts spilling out” in a column shared widely online.
Since last August, the military’s engineering arm has been building highways worth about 7.5 billion pounds ($450 million) to link Cairo with the pharaonic new capital under construction about 45 kilometers (30 miles) to the east.
Known as the New Administrative Capital, it is set to boast skyscrapers, a new presidential palace, dozens of ministries and flats for tens of thousands of civil servants, with the aim of easing Cairo’s chronic overcrowding and air pollution.
‘Act of sabotage’
The first victim of the mega-project, however, is Heliopolis, built in 1906 by Baron Edouard Empain, a wealthy Belgian entrepreneur who settled in Cairo while working on modernizing its nascent railways.
He designed the area with wide streets and elegant buildings that meld various design motifs, as embodied in his impressive palace, which is still standing. As one of Egypt’s most expensive suburbs, Heliopolis also houses powerful institutions including the presidential palace, the military academy and several other armed forces facilities.
There are plenty of green spaces, which is rare in the city of over 20 million.
But now Triomphe Square and the lush arterial avenues of al-Nozha and Abou Bakr al-Seddik, marked by palm trees and ficus plants, have become sites for about a dozen routes out of the suburb.
Many residents have been vocal on social media about fatal traffic accidents in recent weeks on new bridges that lack pedestrian crossings or clearly marked speed limits.
Cairo University urban design professor Dalila al-Kerdany slammed the re-zoning of the capital’s green lung as “an act of sabotage”.
That view was shared by Choucri Asmar, a resident and founding member of HHI, who voiced regret that more cars would choke up the road, instead of the old tramline.
“We have been presented with a fait accompli,” he said, sitting in the courtyard of Chantilly, a chic cafe and a venerable institution in the area.
Asmar said no local community consultations were conducted during the planning stages, and that the urban planning decision came “straight from the presidency”.
Kerdany also charged that the re-districting was launched “illegally”, without approval from Egypt’s top heritage body, the National Organization for Urban Harmony.
Comment was sought from Cairo’s Governorate several times – without success.
“Heliopolis was founded for pedestrians, not for cars – they were always meant to come second”, said Alia Kassim, 33, an incensed resident who works in the media.
Kerdany said “the result is frightening… creating a monstrous and unmanageable” mega-city at the expense of green spaces.
Developments are also planned in other historic neighborhoods with millions of residents, such al-Matariya and Nasr City.
With many Heliopolis residents going on with their daily lives and adjusting to the new routes, HHI has remained active online, documenting the district’s vanishing heritage.
Asmar said the initiative will keep up the protest because “if we keep quiet, everyone will be quiet”.
But given Egypt’s fast-growing and youthful population, pressure for urban expansion is unlikely to ease anytime soon.
Kerdany predicted that at the current rate greater Cairo will eventually extend all the way to Suez, about 130 kilometers from Heliopolis.
Greater Cairo (GC) is the largest urban area in the Middle East and one of the most populated cities in the world. The urban growth patterns of the metropolitan area reveal a fragmented city of heterogeneous parts that developed unplanned over the years. GC public transport network offers a large variety of means of transportation throughout three governorates but its lack of efficiency is forcing more and more people to use private cars. The extreme density of the urban fabric and the widespread congestion on the road network end up making the city’s livability very difficult.
Pamella de Leon, Startup Section Editor, on October 29, 2019, wrote in Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media the following.
Aside from private cars, taxis, and other four-wheeled vehicles, a ubiquitous sight on the streets of Cairo (and in other parts of the MENA, as well as the world at large) are the three-wheeled tuktuks and two-wheeled motorcycles to navigate daily traffic- and taking a bite out of the opportunity in the alternative transport market is Egypt-born startup Halan. The ride-sharing app for tuktuks, motorcycles, and tricycles -a first in the region- was launched in November 2017 in underserved communities in Cairo where roads tend to be too narrow for cars, and provided a cheaper alternative to cars and buses.
It grew across Giza, Alexandria, Minya, Luxor and Qalyubia governorates, and expanded to Sudan in 2018. It also offers on-demand logistics solutions to support large organizations and small businesses alike in their distribution and supply chain. Founded by Mounir Nakhla and Ahmed Mohsen, the former had the lightbulb moment when the idea was proposed to him by one of Gojek’s seed investors.
After meeting Nadiem Makarim, the CEO of Gojek, a startup that has been dubbed Indonesia’s first unicorn venture and has grown as an on-demand tech company for the transport, payment, and food sector, Nakhla was inspired from its success, and saw potential for a similar impact in Egypt. With Egypt’s population of more than 100 million, internet penetration, fast-growing sales of smartphone devices and a growing use of mobile apps, all the elements were positive, he notes.
“Transportation is one of the fastest ways of acquiring customers by solving a real need, and we wanted to be the app of choice for the underserved,” he says. “Egypt has north of 700,000 tuktuks already operating as taxis, and just over 1.5 million two-wheeler vehicles, used for both personal transportation and for delivery services, and this is where Halan comes in.”
As part of the startup’s efforts to organize the market and ensure safety, Nakhla says they also have a meticulous screening process when recruiting drivers. Besides offering convenience to customers, Nakhla says they also provide incremental business for their drivers, and thus increase their incomes.
The founder and CEO is no stranger to working with Egypt’s mobility scene and underserved communities- he co-founded Mashroey, an Egypt-based light transport financing business, and Tasaheel, an Egypt-based micro-financing venture, which Nakhla says, has served more than 1 million customers combined. And the rest of the founding team are veterans in the transport field too: co-founder and CTO Ahmed Mohsen has published several papers in IEEE on AI, was part of the founding team and a shareholder in SecureMisr, a security consultancy company in Egypt, and founded MusicQ and CircleTie.
Plus Mohamed Aboulnaga, Careem’s former Regional Director and Fawry’s Business Development Manager, joined as co-founder and COO. They also have key members who have worked previously with Uber and Ghabbour Auto, which has resulted in a team that is comprised of “technically very competent, passionate, creative, results-driven individuals with a high work ethic. Each one with a unique strength, that when brought together make for an unrivalled team.”
After launching in 2017, Nakhla says that the company was doing around 50,000 rides by March 2018, and they closed their Series A round in the same year in a round co-led by Battery Road Ventures Holdings (BRVH) and Algebra Ventures. As for their funding, Nakhla put in 20% of the seed capital and raised the rest from Raouf Ghabbour, founder of GB Auto, as well as BRVH.
According to Nakhla, Halan has so far raised single-digit millions in total, and are currently in the process of their Series B funding round. The company’s business model involves taking a percentage of the ride fare as commission. Currently serving more than 100,000 customers, Halan has exceeded 10 million rides and operates in around 20-25 cities in Egypt and Sudan. As for its on-demand logistics offering, Halan is currently partnering with prominent names in the fast-food industry, including McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Hardees, and many more. The startup has also been recently awarded Fastest-Growing Mobility Solution in the Market during the second edition of the E-Commerce Summit in September this year.
Mark Anthony Karam in an October 21, 2019, article that is a response to his “Does micro-mobility have a place in the GCC?” elaborates on possibilities of moving around obviously the plush urban centres of the GCC. But only during certain times of the year unless a personalised Air Conditioning apparatus is provided with the ‘cyacle’. The image above is credit to The National.ae .
With the rest of the world continues to see the micro-mobility sector enjoy growing success, could we see a similar success in the GCC?
Micro mobility was an ideal solution to the last-mile issue in countries like China or the US
The GCC might not be as ideal for a replicated success
There are several factors today that pose obstacles impeding its growth
Micro mobility, which involves light-weighted means of transportation like electric scooters and bikes for short trips, usually in urban areas, has continued to grow internationally. Countries like China, the United States and many EU nations are finding great success with this novel sector, which builds on many of the concepts of the sharing economy that innovators like Uber brought into the mainstream.
Lime and Bird, US rivals in the sector, reached unicorn status in a handful of years each since their founding. One of the reasons for their sudden success is that they solved the long-standing last-mile issue, capitalizing on a neglected market gap.
The GCC goes mobile Today in the GCC, some are attempting to solve this last-mile problem as well. Earlier this year, Careem announced that it had acquired Abu Dhabi bikeshare startup Cyacle, which would add a micro-mobility offering to their services. Launched in December 2014, Cyacle is a fully-automated docked bike-share service currently operating in Abu Dhabi. Stations run 24-hours a day via an app, a touch screen kiosk and docking system that releases bikes using a ride code or a member key.
At the time, Careem had also announced that it was partnering with Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) to install 350 bike docking stations across the Emirates, where citizens would have access to 3,500 bicycles to bike share.
Another firm, Dubai-based Arnab Mobility, is also providing a similar service.
“Global cities are currently trying to find solutions to the global warming problems mainly caused by fossil fuel vehicles,” Dr. Dheeraj Bhardwaj, Group CEO of Arnab Mobility, tells Gulf News. He ponders an age-old question: “Also, city inhabitants and visitors struggle with first/last mile transportation, congestion and expenses. How efficient is it for a one-ton hulk of metal to take one person two to three miles? Conventional transportation systems are currently insufficient with people dealing daily with traffic, a lack of parking spaces, as well as long walks from bus stops and metro stations.”
Yet, while these solutions offer a service on par with international counterparts, it is important to remember the financial, cultural, and climate situation of the region.
Firstly, it is important to remember that the GCC region is known for its oil-derived wealth, with many nationals owning multiple vehicles and often employing personal drivers to help family members commute. Secondly, travel distances for major outings are already quite short.
“With urbanization on the rise, the majority of trips people take fall within the category of micro-mobility and thus are prime candidates for bike and scooter usage. In the US, for instance, roughly 60% of all trips are 5 miles or less,” CBinsights explains.
One of the reasons micro-mobility solutions are so attractive abroad is because of their perceived value for the service provided. Instead of paying a whopping fee for a taxi get you across 4 city blocks in New York, a US citizen would opt to rent a Lime scooter for a fraction of the cost. In the GCC, with its small-sized nations, large roads and affordable taxi services, this is not yet a problem. The countries in the region, save for Saudi Arabia, are sometimes comparable to entire Western cities in size. Bahrain, for example, has an area of 765.3 km², which is half the size of London (1,572 km²).
Therefore, from a financial and spatial perspective, micro-mobility services might struggle.
Then arises the issue of culture perceptions. While women have been driving for more than a year now in Saudi Arabia for example, breaking gender bias and perception is still an ongoing challenge. The country is certainly moving towards progress, but micro-mobility firms will have to consider this nonetheless. Also, consider that environmental awareness and consideration only just recently began to receive mass attention in the region in the past few years. Getting people to opt for bikes over a more convenient car ride will still prove a struggle.
Finally, and perhaps the most glaring of the issues plaguing micro-mobility companies in the region, is the climate and weather. The GCC is infamous for its scorching desert sun and sweltering heat. While public transportation like the Dubai metro or public buses offer some reprieve from the heat with their AC units, an e-scooter or bike doesn’t. When it’s 50 degrees Celsius outside and you need to just get home after a long day at work, a taxi or Uber, even for the higher fee, will prove the go-to choice. That remains the sector’s greatest obstacle. How it addresses it is still in question.
Mark Anthony Karam has 4 years of experience in the field of visual and written media, having earned his Masters degree from the UK. You can get in touch with him here: firstname.lastname@example.org
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