* Bechtel, Spain's FCC, Italy's Ansaldo STS lead consortia
* World's largest public transport system under development
* Electric, driverless trains over 176 km of track
* Aims to improve living standards to ease social tensions
* New rail system will create jobs, help to diversify
By Marwa Rashad
RIYADH, July 28 The Saudi Arabian government
awarded $22.5 billion in contracts to three foreign-led
consortia on Sunday for the design and construction of the first
metro rail system in the capital Riyadh.
The project, which will involve six rail lines extending 176
kilometres (110 miles) and carrying electric, driverless trains,
is the world's largest public transport system currently under
development, Saudi officials said.
U.S. construction giant Bechtel Corp heads a group which won
a $9.45 billion contract to build two lines, the government
announced. Its partners include Germany's Siemens
Aktiengesellschaft and U.S.-based AECOM.
A consortium led by Spain's Fomento de Construcciones y
Contratas, and including France's Alstom Transport
and South Korea's Samsung C&T Corp, won a
$7.82 billion contract for three lines.
Italy's Ansaldo STS headed a group that won a $5.21
billion order. Its partners include Canadian firm Bombardier
and India's Larsen & Toubro.
Design work will start immediately and construction will
begin in the first quarter of 2014, the government said. The
project is expected to be completed in 2019.
The project "will be a major driver of employment and
economic development," said Ibrahim Bin Muhammad Al Sultan, head
of the government body overseeing the project. "It will also
help to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality."
Flush with cash after more than two years of high oil
prices, Saudi Arabia is pumping billions of dollars into
infrastructure projects designed to improve living standards and
ease social discontent in the wake of the 2011 uprisings
elsewhere in the Arab world.
Last August the government approved a $16.5 billion plan to
modernise the transport system in the holy city of Mecca,
including creating a bus network and a metro system.
It is also building several other rail systems, including a
2,750 km line running from Riyadh to near the northern border
Saudi officials said Riyadh's population was projected to
grow from 6 million to over 8 million in the next 10 years,
making the metro vital to ease congestion and pollution in the
In addition to raising living standards, the government says
it wants to upgrade the country's infrastructure to help the
economy diversify beyond oil, making it less vulnerable to any
future plunge of global oil prices.
The contracts may provide a welcome financial boost to some
Western construction companies struggling with slow economic
growth in their home markets and state austerity policies in
debt-choked Europe. Company spokesmen were not immediately
available to comment.