Wednesday 9 October 2013

Israeli green light for controversial Eilat line


By Peter Feuilherade


This article was first published in MENA Rail News on 8 October 2013


Ignoring objections from Israel’s Environmental Protection Minister, a coalition of activists and environmentalists, economists and even the former head of Mossad, the country’s powerful intelligence agency, a ministerial committee on 6 October approved the building of a twin-track high-speed railway line linking Tel Aviv and the port of Eilat in the Gulf of Aqaba.

No budget costings were included in the announcement, but latest estimates are in excess of 5.6 billion US dollars. Construction work on the 350-km line, which would carry passengers as well as freight, will take an estimated 10 years. If completed, it will be the most expensive transport project in Israel’s 65-year history.

The scheme is being pushed by Transport Minister Yisrael Katz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who says it would have great strategic significance for Israel. But Minister of Environmental Protection Amir Peretz opposes the project, arguing it would harm the environment. The line, with trains travelling at 250 km per hour, “is liable to turn into a fast track to destroying nature in the Negev [desert] and damaging the Gulf of Eilat,” Peretz said in a joint statement with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. Other critics say the project will also divert resources that could be spent on improving public transport in urban areas.

Giving details of the route, Israeli business news website Globes reported that the first 90‑km section of the line from Tel Aviv to Beersheva was already completed, and the second 35‑km section to Dimona required a second line. The website added: “The third 65‑km section from Dimona to Hatzeva will be especially difficult, with a doubling of the existing track to Nahal Zin and 9.2 km of tunnels to reach the Arava. The fourth 160‑km section will run to the northern entrance to Eilat, where the new port channel will be built. The line will not reach the current port. In addition to the tunnels, the route will require 63 bridges extending over 4.5 km.”
The announcement made no mention of a link with Israel’s Mediterranean port of Ashdod, creating a “land bridge” between Europe and Asia, which had been touted as the project’s main purpose. Options for linking the railway to the ports are expected to be discussed later.

Netivei Yisrael, Israel’s national roads company, says the proposed rail link is not meant to compete with Egypt’s Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. However, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper quoted estimates that Israel’s planned rail line would allow for “hundreds of thousands of crates of goods to travel between the two continents as well. In addition, Israel will be able to import more than 200,000 cars using the cargo train and export five million tons of chemicals.”

Foreign interest

According to Globes, the Prime Minister's Office director‑general Harel Locker is in favour of financing the project as part of an agreement between governments, rather than through a tender in the normal way. The Chinese, French and Spanish governments are interested in the project, and tentative plans are for the project to be managed by a Chinese company that would build and operate the railway line.

However, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy said Chinese involvement might damage Israel’s ties with the United States and Europe. He warned that if China “actively controlled” the track between Eilat and Ashdod, and the port that the government wants to build in Eilat, it would create a situation in which China would control “political and economic pressure points” within Israel.

In response, Israel's Transport Ministry said: “The government of Israel views positively the interest of the Chinese in the Eilat railway project, and is promoting economic ties with China, something that does not go against the close ties that Israel shares with the United States.”

The latest decision suggests that Netanyahu’s argument in favour of the project’s strategic importance for Israel is taking precedence – for the time being, at least – over the economic counter‑view that a route offering both passenger and freight transport would not be financially feasible.

Thursday 26 September 2013

Winning hearts and minds of GCC public transport users

By Peter Feuilherade
This article was first published in MENA Rail News on 24 September 2013.
In the next decade, the population of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries is forecast to soar by 30% to over 50 million people – and more than 85% of them will be living in urban areas, according to the UN. Governments in the region are spending billions of dollars on public transport infrastructure and services, to divert traffic from roads and reduce air and noise pollution.

The total planned investment in railways, metros and trams in the Gulf states over the next 10 years is put at almost $150 billion. In addition to a GCC-wide rail network that aims to connect all six states by 2018, almost $30 billion worth of contracts have been awarded in recent months alone to build metro services in the capitals of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, while metro projects are also under way in Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Jeddah, Mecca and Medina.

The benefits to the economy – including greater efficiency due to reduced traffic, and significant cuts to travel times – are self-evident.

But as growing populations and increasing prosperity boost car ownership, luring commuters away from private vehicles and taxis and persuading them to switch to public transport is a major challenge.

While in London, for example, public transport is used for about half of all journeys, only about 2% of Riyadh’s six million residents currently use public transport. The figures for Jeddah and Bahrain are 4% and 5% respectively. Dubai, with the most developed public transit network in the GCC, reported 165 million journeys in the first half of 2013, or almost 12% of potential users. By 2030, when construction of Dubai’s 422‑km metro and tram network is completed, the aim is to achieve a user rate of 30%.

Mattar al‑Tayer, head of Dubai’s Roads & Transport Authority (RTA), said in July 2013 that residents of the emirate and visitors “do grasp the benefits and advantages of using public transport means, including the psychological and physical relief of riders, reducing traffic accidents, cutting expenses on fuel and maintenance of private vehicles, and avoiding the hassles of finding parking space…”

But many factors are still impeding greater take-up of public transport across the GCC, including poor public perceptions, heavy dependence on private cars and taxis, the absence of standard policies and regulations and the lack of private sector capacity to support this rapid development.

With fuel prices in the region among the cheapest in the world, heavily subsidized by governments, this only serves to promote the continued high use of privately-owned vehicles.

Public attitudes towards the curtailment of subsidies remain resistant to change, but the option of raising fuel prices to promote greater use of public transport is beginning to appear on the political agenda. In August 2013, Saudi Arabia's High Commission for the Development of Riyadh mooted raising fuel prices to make more motorists use public transport. "High fuel prices will prompt a considerable number of private car owners to depend on the metro and buses for their commuting," the Saudi newspaper Arab News quoted the commission as saying. Riyadh is also considering imposing fees for car parking to discourage people from using private vehicles.

Another option is road tolls. In 2007, Dubai was the first city in the region to introduce toll systems on some major roads, but surveys have shown that many Dubai residents remain reluctant to use public transport until it becomes considerably cheaper than personal transport.

Qatar, for its part, has ruled out parking fees or congestion charges, saying they are not feasible until people have safe public transport options.

Raising attractiveness

If coercive measures against car use are to be avoided in an oil‑producing region where the public expect low taxes and import duties, the alternative must be to make using public transport more attractive.

A July 2013 report by global consulting firm Booz & Co said the convenience of passengers was paramount, and customers wanted public transportation that was easy to access and use, as well as being pleasant to ride. “To reach a sustainable level of usage, a metro in the GCC should heed lessons from successful systems that have proper feeds from high-frequency bus services and taxis, as well as ‘park and ride’ facilities for car users. Station and vehicle cleanliness and comfort are also critical to attract riders from all socioeconomic classes,” the report added.

Riyadh’s new 177‑km six-line metro network, due for completion in 2019, is described as the world's biggest current investment in public transport. The Riyadh Development Authority has hired some top international architects to design stations intended to be “tranquil oases for travel, shopping and dining”, to place the metro at the heart of life in the Saudi capital. One of the stations, Olaya, will feature elevated public gardens and an undulating roof inspired by desert sand dunes. Ibrahim al-Sultan, the official supervising the project, told Reuters news agency that the metro will "enhance the quality of life" of Riyadh's six million inhabitants.

Riyadh metro to enhance "quality of life"

Some Saudi women see the new metro as offering them greater independence by overcoming the ban on women driving in the Kingdom. The Riyadh metro will include "family class" carriages, intended to give women privacy and peace of mind like the "ladies only" carriages on metros in Dubai and Cairo, among others.

The Dubai Metro, too, plans to extend sections reserved for women and children in carriages during peak hours, after complaints and surveys found that these were often more congested than the rest of the train.

A statement by the RTA in August 2013 said the number of women and children travelling on the Metro had increased noticeably, “thanks primarily to the growth in the public transportation culture among the public from different social cross-sections”.

Constant connectivity is another essential, now that technological achievements mean public transport users worldwide expect to be able to use smartphones and tablets during journeys, as well as receive up to date travel information via smart technologies, on social media as well as display screens in carriages, on platforms and station concourses, shops and restaurants.

Dr Muna Hamdi, founder and leader of Intelligent Mobility: Future Vision (iMFV) and ITS Arab director of research, told MENA Rail News that the first priority for GCC public transport planners should be multi-modal connectivity, providing seamless travel for people and goods between transport networks.

Dr Hamdi also stressed the need for integrated planning and regulation at the GCC level.

“The most important step is to develop a multi-modal GCC regional strategy that takes into account the rapid change in technology (planning flexibility) and economic growth, as well as environmental and cultural aspects of a healthy and prosperous society. The lack of convenient travel options for a considerable time in the Arab region, personal wealth and the availability of fuel have encouraged dependency on personal transport,” she said, adding that “adaptation to the local culture user needs and aspirations” was paramount.

But experts caution that planners in the GCC must be realistic about how many people will use public transport. The Booz & Co report predicts that in the light of the current strong car culture in the region and its far‑flung populations, public transport is unlikely to account for more than 30% of motorized trips in GCC cities.


“Even to reach that figure, treble the current level, transport authorities will have to do more than build public transport systems based on demand and transit-oriented development. They will need a holistic approach based on integrated modes of transportation, customer convenience, reduced private-car use, private-sector involvement, and an integrated planning and regulatory framework,” the Booz report concluded.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Could rail be a viable outlet for South Sudan’s oil exports?

By Peter Feuilherade

This article was first published in MENA Rail News on 13 July 2013
Flag of South Sudan
The latest flare-up between Sudan and its landlocked neighbour South Sudan over cross-border flows of oil via pipelines raises the issue of whether building a railway line to export South Sudan’s oil via Kenya instead could turn out to be a better long-term option.

In June, Sudan threatened to block exports of crude oil from South Sudan via pipelines controlled by the government in Khartoum, following renewed claims that South Sudan was supporting rebels operating across the shared border. The allegations are denied by the government in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, which is the world’s newest nation. When South Sudan gained independence from Khartoum in 2011 after a 22-year civil war, Sudan lost 75 per cent of its oil production overnight, but retained the pipeline infrastructure, as well as the refineries and export terminal at Port Sudan on the Red Sea. This is currently the only way that South Sudan, the most oil‑dependent country in the world, can get its oil to market.

After the row was defused at the end of June, South Sudan shipped its first oil cargo through Sudan to international markets since 2011. But tensions remain between the two countries, and it is very likely that oil exports from South Sudan will be interrupted again.

In late June, the presidents of Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda agreed to build two pipelines across East Africa, one of which would run from South Sudan to Lamu port in northern Kenya. While this would give the Juba authorities a pipeline to the south, advocates of building a rail link to export South Sudan’s oil believe they have a strong case.

“Flexible, open-ended, expandable”

In 2012, two US academics and Sudanese specialists set out the case for building a railway line to connect South Sudanese oil fields to the Kenyan coast. But so far the proposal has not attracted interest either from the government in Juba or the international rail construction industry.

The railway project, if adopted, could put the new country on a path for resolving a host of pressing political and economic problems in a single blow, says Sharon Hutchinson, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin. It could also represent an enormous business opportunity for international railway companies, she told MENA Rail News in an interview. 

Her vision is of a flexible, open-ended and expandable railway system that could begin with a route that would link South Sudan to Kenya (and Uganda) and then gradually expand, as income from oil export revenues and supplementary railway revenue streams grew, to encompass the entire country and become a force for economic growth throughout the extended region.  

She believes that a railway line could be built in stages that could gradually expand outwards from an initial cut to the coast in order to progressively link up with more and more regional urban hubs, such as Nairobi and Kampala and, later, perhaps, Dar es Salaam and Addis Ababa. “Even more importantly, it could serve as a force of political and economic growth and unification by gradually interconnecting diverse domestic administrative centres and regions,” Hutchinson added, noting that there is already a rail line extending from Khartoum to Wau in South Sudan, which could be tied in and expanded as a more effective route northwards. 

Train travelling towards Wau
Recalling how railway construction during the colonial era had stimulated rapid economic development and growth in many African countries in the past, she said that “unlike a single purpose oil pipeline, a railway line would be able to create multiple revenue streams for both the state and people of South Sudan for generations to come.  It would enable South Sudan to create an increasingly diversified import and export economy.”

But Hutchinson warned that if government officials in South Sudan do not give the railway proposal more serious consideration at this stage, they may find it very difficult to "catch up" with neighbouring states later on, once the latter have taken the economic lead. 

Eric Reeves, a Sudan researcher and analyst at Smith College, Massachusetts, also believes South Sudanese officials have not taken the railway option seriously enough. He told MENA Rail News: “The real issue is the lack of a leadership which has to date failed to assess this key transportation decision in a realistic way.  The oil pipeline can carry more oil, but will take longer to build and is one‑way - it is useless for imports.”

In reply to arguments that South Sudan critically needs maximum oil revenues now, which an existing pipeline can provide, Reeves counters: “Even if a rail line monetizes the oil reserves more slowly, that's probably a good thing.  Too much money came in too fast to escape the blight of corruption.  And when the oil runs out, the pipeline will be useless - not so a rail line.”

In a February 2013 briefing paper entitled "Railway: A Better Option than Pipeline for South Sudan”, Samuel Nyuon Akoi Nyuon, an engineering student at Cornell University, pointed out that given its current economic predicament, South Sudan cannot afford to build roads, railways and a pipeline at the same time. “It must choose what to acquire first in order to stimulate the growth of her nascent economy. Looking at the three options, railway offers the best opportunity for restarting oil exports and stimulating long‑term economic growth,” he argued.

There is already a separate plan, the LAPSSET (Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia) project, a $25 billion venture that envisages linking the Kenyan coastal town of Lamu to South Sudan and Ethiopia by building thousands of miles of roads, railways and oil pipeline over a time-scale of 17 years. Officials in Kenya, the driving force behind the project, are pinning their hopes on the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the African Union, as well as Chinese investment, to provide the finance. But funding for this ambitious mega-project is not assured.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Most North African Rail Markets Buoyant Amidst Uncertainty

This article appeared on MENA Rail News on 6 June 2013

By Peter Feuilherade - 6 June 2013

On top of high levels of unemployment and complex political transitions in North Africa, the weaknesses of European economies have affected those countries in the region that are dependent on European markets. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings, political and social tensions also continue in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. But infrastructure and construction projects are still of major importance, and a steady stream of new contracts in the rail sector in recent months is cause for optimism.

The African Economic Outlook 2013, published in May 2013, predicts that the economic climate in North Africa will generally improve in the near future. “Due to the resumption of oil production and exports, Libya’s GDP bounced back by 96% in 2012, boosting growth in North Africa to 9.5%, after the region’s GDP had stagnated in 2011,” the report notes. While in Egypt growth remains below pre-revolution levels, Tunisia’s economy recovered in 2012 and is forecast to grow by around 3.5% in 2013, rising to around 4.5% in 2014. Morocco and Mauritania are predicted to enjoy continued solid growth in 2013/14 at average rates of 6% and almost 5% respectively. In Algeria, growth is expected to accelerate from 2.5% in 2012 to above 3% in 2013 and 4% in 2014.


Although Egypt is plagued by a mounting economic crisis, the European Union has allocated US$ 160 million towards the development of the transport sector, onethird of which will fund construction of the third phase of the Cairo Metro. Grants totalling US$ 250 million from Kuwait and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development will support electronic signalling projects on the Banha-Zagazig line north of Cairo. And during a visit by Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Mursi to Moscow in April to drum up financial support, it was agreed that Russian companies would participate in rail and metro projects. However, Egypt’s railways remain plagued by outdated rolling stock and low safety standards, and it is difficult to see how a proposed high-speed train project, costing an estimated US$ 3.5 billion, will attract either local or foreign investors while the financial situation deteriorates.

TGV is Morocco’s most important transport project

Morocco's planned TGV routes

There is better news from the other side of North Africa, where both passenger and freight traffic in Morocco are on the increase. The construction of the 350-km high-speed rail (TGV) line between Tangier and Casablanca, in partnership with France, is regarded as the kingdom’s most important transport project. In April France’s Colas Rail and its subsidiary Colas Rail Maroc, as part of a consortium with Egis Rail, won a design-build contract for a 185-km double track highspeed line between Tangier and Kenitra. The total contract value is US$ 175 million, of which US$ 160 million are earmarked for Colas Rail and Colas Rail Maroc. A consortium comprising Ansaldo STS France and Cofely Ineo was awarded a US$ 155 million contract to design and supply signalling, train control and telecommunications systems for the line, which is scheduled to open during the first half of 2016.

Eventually the TGV network will extend over 1,500 km. According to the international business intelligence firm Oxford Business Group (OBG), “the move to set up a joint venture for TGV maintenance and establish a training institute will be a key driver in the Moroccan authorities’ bid to create a qualified local workforce with know-how for future ventures.”

New tram network in Oran

In May a new 18-km tram network opened in Oran, Algeria’s second city. The rail network in Algeria is currently concentrated in the north of the country and comprises 3,660 km of standard gauge and 1,140 of narrow gauge. The government plans to modernize the network and electrify existing rail operations, as well as develop a 1,300km highspeed east-west line that will run from Tunisia to Morocco, with branches connecting with major ports and cities. Algeria has allocated US$ 32 billion to the development of its rail infrastructure during the two five-year plans covering the decade from 2005 to 2014, Ministry of Transport spokesman Nassim Mustapha said in March 2013. Much of the expenditure will be spent linking the more developed rail networks in the north to towns in the less well-connected south. But officials admit that many rail projects have been held up owing to problems connected with “expropriation”. Political issues are also affecting the sector’s expansion, with Algerian newspaper Le Matin in March 2013 referring to “the state of tension which prevails in several towns in southern Algeria”.

In Tunisia, Colas Rail, in a consortium with Siemens and Tunisian firm Somatra-Get, won a US$ 187 million contract in February to build the first two lines of a high-speed railway network in the capital Tunis. Construction work on the project, financed by a consortium of international backers and the Tunisian government, is scheduled to start in mid-2014 and is expected to be completed in 2018.
Meanwhile, a definitive announcement is awaited from Libya about the future of stalled projects agreed before the revolution and valued at US$ 12 billion. Construction to build more than 2,000 km of new railway track would have been split between the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) and Russian Railways (RZhD). The Libya Herald newspaper reports that while CRCC remains silent on its future activities in Libya, RZhD has said it was “taking all possible steps to begin negotiations with Libya in order to discuss the future prospects for the resumption of the project and to develop a joint plan of action…“.

Long-term reforms

In the words of Ernst & Young’s Africa Attractiveness Survey (2013), “countries, such as Morocco, that are making substantial improvements in transport and logistics, are the ones that have implemented long-term and comprehensive reforms and investments across the transport and logistics supply chain.”
However, analysts say that the fallout from the Arab Spring revolutions continues to impede business across North Africa, even in countries like Algeria which did not go through a radical political upheaval.

John Hamilton, London office director of the business intelligence and consultancy company Crossborder Information, told MENA Rail News: “The common denominator is uncertainty created by political change and the lack of central authority… Across the whole region, the political shifts mean that investors and contractors will have to pay close attention to their local partners.”

Electric Urban Transport

By Peter Feuilherade

This article first appeared in the April 2013 issue of e-tech, published by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), Geneva..

It was also published by MENA Rail News

A revival after a long decline

More than half the world’s population now live in cities, according to United Nations data, and that percentage is forecast to hit 60% by 2030. By 2025 there will be 37 megacities (22 of them in Asia), each home to more than 10 million people. The growing use of electric buses, trams and metropolitan “light railways” offers an environmentally friendly option to reduce local emission of pollutants significantly in the expanding cities of the future.


Nothing new

Urban public transport systems powered by electricity can trace their origins to 1879 when Berlin launched the world’s first electric suburban railway (S-Bahn), followed by electric trams in 1881 and electric trolleybuses a year later.

With transport systems estimated to account for between 20% and 25% of world energy consumption and CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions, electric vehicles offer greater efficiency than their diesel counterparts. Using their brakes, they can generate kinetic energy to be recycled back into the power network. Electric engines on buses and trams cause less vibration, making journeys more comfortable for passengers and reducing maintenance time and costs.

Several IEC TCs (Technical Committees) prepare International Standards for the electric buses, trams, trolleybuses and metro/light rail vehicles used in public urban transport networks, as well as the batteries, capacitors and fuel cells used in propulsion systems, and many other components.


Electric buses, which require neither great range nor speed and can be partially recharged during their journeys as they stop for passengers, are seen as the most promising area for potential growth of green urban public transport.

China is the world leader in developing battery electric buses. The southern city of Shenzhen has the world’s largest zero-carbon fleet of all-electric buses and taxis, and plans to have 6 000 electric buses in service by 2015. Shenzhen is also home to the world’s largest manufacturer of electric buses, BYD (Build Your Dreams). The company has started to enter overseas electric bus markets. At the start of 2013 its vehicles received Whole Vehicle Type-Approval from the European Union, giving the company the green light to sell its buses to all EU member countries without further certification.
The number of electric buses in countries other than China is limited but growing.
Electric Buses

The US-based market research and consulting firm Pike Research forecast in August 2012 that the global market for all electric-drive buses including hybrid, battery electric and fuel cell buses will grow steadily over the next six years, with a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 26,4% from 2012 to 2018. According to Pike, the largest sales volumes will come in Asia Pacific, with more than 15 000 e-buses being sold in that region in 2018 – 75% of the world total. China will account for the majority of global e-bus sales, Pike predicts. It believes that growth in the e-bus market will accelerate strongly in Eastern Europe and Latin America, the latter driven largely by Brazil. Sales in Western Europe will experience steady growth (around a 20% CAGR), according to Pike.

A December 2012 report by the research and consultancy firm IDTechEx forecast that the market for electric buses and taxis will grow from USD 6,24 billion in 2011 to USD 54 billion in 2021, of which the largest part will be buses. China will become by far the largest market for both electric buses and electric taxis. According to Dr Peter Harrop, chairman of IDTechEx, “in China… over 100 000 electric buses a year will eventually be bought as part of the national programme”.

Electric Lines



Trolleybuses are electric buses that use spring-loaded trolley poles to draw their electricity from overhead lines, generally suspended from roadside posts, as distinct from other electric buses that rely on batteries. Because they do not require tracks or rails, they are more flexible than trams and drivers can cross the bus lane, making the installation of a trolleybus system much cheaper. Trolleybuses operate in some 370 cities or metropolitan areas worldwide, according to the Trolley Project, which aims “to unlock the vast potential of trolleybuses to transform public transport systems” across Europe in line with the European Commission’s target to reduce traffic-related CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050.


In the 1960s the tram saw a decline in favour of diesel driven buses, but the backlash in recent years against pollution and dependence on fossil fuels has seen a resurgence of interest in electric trams as another urban transport system that can carry large numbers of passengers efficiently and generates no emissions at the point of use. Tram systems do not need vast financing compared with underground systems, which are typically four times more expensive to construct. However, in addition to its relative high cost, compared to that of buses or trolleybuses, the greatest disadvantage of the tram is its confinement to a set route by the wires and tracks it requires. The largest tram networks are in Melbourne, St Petersburg, Vienna, Berlin, Milan, Toronto, Budapest, Bucharest and Prague. Dozens of cities in North America are exploring or planning tram systems.

Metro and light rail

In a December 2012 study SCI Verkehr GmbH, an international management consultancy based in Germany, forecast the global growth in railway electrification at a CAGR of 3,4% up to 2016.
Market growth is mainly driven by new metro and electric light rail urban transport projects under way on most continents, from major cities in Asia and the Persian Gulf to North and South Africa and North American urban areas.

A metro rapid transit system is an electric passenger railway in an urban area with a high capacity and frequency, typically located either in underground tunnels or on elevated rails above street level. It allows higher capacity with less land use, less environmental impact and a lower cost than typical light rail systems.

Light rail systems use small electric-powered trains or trams that generally have a lower capacity and lower speed than normal trains to serve large metropolitan areas. They usually operate at ground level, but can include underground or overhead zones.

A common feature to rail systems: IEC International Standards

All urban rail systems rely on International Standards developed by IEC TC 9: Electrical equipment and systems for railways. Areas covered include rolling stock, fixed installations, management systems (including communication, signalling and processing systems) for railway operation, their interfaces and their ecological environment. These standards deal with electromechanical and electronic aspects of power components as well as electronic hardware and software components.

Battery Fuel


Batteries and fuel cells

Buses, which have defined, short routes and daily travel distances of less than 200 km, are well suited to battery-only electric technology. Li-ion (Lithium-ion) technology is the most commonly used. Pure electric buses divide into those using high power density Li-ion batteries alone and those with large banks of supercapacitors in the roof to manage fast charge and discharge and increase battery life. Hydrogen powered fuel-cell vehicles provide longer range than battery electric vehicles. Refuelling times are short and comparable with present internal combustion engine vehicles. Currently, the main drawbacks of hydrogen powered vehicles are the high cost, mainly due to expensive fuel cells, and the lack of refuelling infrastructure. IEC TCs prepare International Standards for batteries and fuel cells used in urban transport systems.

IEC TC 21: Secondary cells and batteries, has prepared standards covering requirements and tests for batteries for road vehicles, locomotives, industrial trucks and mechanical handling equipment. Its work includes standards for performance, reliability, abuse testing and dimensions for hybrid and plug-in hybrid Li-ion batteries, which are seen as one of the most promising types of secondary batteries.

IEC TC 105: Fuel cell technologies, is responsible for standards for fuel cell commercialization and adoption. It focuses on safety, installation and performance of both stationary fuel cell systems and for transportation, both for propulsion and as auxiliary power units.

Almost all fuel cell buses incorporate a battery for energy storage and there is also a balance to be struck in the hybridization of the fuel cell power plant and the supporting battery pack. While fuel cell costs remain high and hydrogen infrastructure sparse, it may be more economical to use battery-dominant buses with fuel cell range extenders. The fuel cell bus sector is showing year-on-year growth, with more prototypes being unveiled. Successful deployments have taken place in Europe, Japan, Canada and the USA but the high capital cost is still a barrier to widespread adoption.

Pike Research forecasts that global demand for Li-ion batteries in electric drive buses will be more than 162 000 kWh in 2012. It expects that demand to grow to more than 1,3 million kWh by 2018, a CAGR of 42%. Fuel cell buses will drive demand for Li-ion batteries as well, but to a lesser degree. Pike Research estimates that they will require around 1 600 kWh in 2012, but will grow to 22 240 kWh by 2018.

Electric Transport


More IEC standardization activities for electric urban transport

Electric urban transport systems depend also on standardization work from many other IEC TCs and their SCs, such as, TC 22: Power electronic systems and equipment, TC 36: Insulators; TC 40: Capacitors and resistors for electronic equipment; TC 47: Semiconductor devices, and obviously TC 69: Electric road vehicles and electric industrial trucks, to name only a few. Other TCs may be less obvious, such as TC 56: Dependability, which is involved in rolling stock-related standardization work. It maintains liaison activities with TC 9 and stresses that “without dependable products and services (…) transport [would be] non-functioning (…) there would be numerous car, train (…) accidents”.

“Down to Electric Avenue”

Wireless or induction charging technology to charge electric vehicles, including buses and light rail trains, is in use or undergoing testing in many countries, including South Korea, the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium and Italy.

Wireless charging plates built into the road at bus stops and terminals enable electric buses to be charged wirelessly through a brief connection while passengers get on or off the bus at a stop. This resolves the current battery limitations that prevent an all-electric bus from operating all day off an overnight charge. It would also mean the end of unsightly overhead cables to power trams and trolleybuses. There can be a loss of energy in the transfer, but tests using a light rail train in Germany in 2011 to demonstrate the technical capability of the system under actual conditions of daily operation indicated an efficiency rating above 90%.

Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology say the transmitting technology they road tested supplied 180 kW of stable, constant power at 60 kHz to passing vehicles equipped with receivers, and they recorded 85% transmission efficiency. Installing similar chargers at busy traffic lights and junctions and in parking spaces could extend the technology to consumer electric cars.

There are concerns, however, about different competing wireless charging technologies, the costs of installing the infrastructure and its capacity to stand up to extreme weather. Meanwhile companies, notably in China and the USA, have developed ultra-fast charging technology capable of charging an electric bus battery in five to ten minutes.

Other features likely to be become standard in the electric buses of the future include regenerative charge braking, energy harvesting shock absorbers, solar panels and quickly replaceable battery packs.

These and other innovations in transportation and urban mobility are set to play a prominent part in “smart city” projects around the world, a technology market that Pike Research forecasts will be worth USD 20,2 billion annually by 2020.

Monday 8 April 2013

Lines in the sand: Middle East rail projects on track


By Peter Feuilherade

The Middle East and North Africa is emerging as one of the fastest growing rail markets in the world. Major railway projects planned or under construction in the region during this decade are currently valued at around $160 billion. The growth of rail is seen as a major step in transforming economic development and trade by cutting freight delivery times and reducing road congestion.

 Also published in MENA Rail News

Planned rail projects in GCC (Source: Reuters)

This article was first published in The Middle East magazine, April 2013.

Until recently the region had one of the lowest density rail networks in the world, with most passengers and freight moving around by road, air or sea. In the century since sections of the Turkish-built Hejaz Railway from Damascus to Medina were damaged during World War I, railway development in the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf has been overlooked because cheap fuel prices ensured that cars and trucks remained the favoured mode of transport for passengers and freight.

Only now is MENA emerging as one of the fastest growing rail markets in the world. The growth of rail is seen as a major step in transforming economic development and trade by cutting freight delivery times and reducing road congestion.

The highest growth rates are predicted in the GCC countries, which have ambitious plans to connect individual networks that they are currently building into a pan-Gulf railway grid which would link to the rest of the Middle East and ultimately via Turkey to Europe, and also potentially to Central Asia.

Qatari railways chief Saad Al Muhannadi said at the Middle East Rail conference in Dubai in February 2013 that an integrated rail link between the Gulf and Europe could be ready within five years, “but this will depend on the decisions made by heads of state and economic conditions in the countries involved” – and presumably also on the outcome of the conflict in Syria, with its rail links to the north with Turkey. A GCC Railways Authority may also be created by 2014 to coordinate the individual national projects.

The region’s major economies have each earmarked dozens of billions of dollars for infrastructure projects ranging from major mainline ventures in Iran ($34 billion), Saudi Arabia (over $30 billion) and the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar ($13 to 14 billion each) to more modest national projects. High-speed passenger rail services are planned in Morocco and Iran. Egypt, the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, among others, are also pressing on with metro/light rail projects aimed at delivering efficient public transport that can help ease traffic congestion and air pollution in urban areas.

The sector offers a wealth of opportunities for international engineering, construction, rolling stock and communication companies and consultancies across much of the MENA region.

Main projects

Large-scale rail projects across the MENA region are expected to add another 35,000 km of network in the next five years. According to Dr Amjad Bangash, head of rail for the global construction giant Bechtel, the region's mainline rail network is set to almost double in size over the coming decades, while metro, tram and monorail track lengths will increase tenfold.

Saudi Arabia has three major projects under way. The North-South Railway, a passenger and freight rail line from the capital Riyadh in the north-west to Al Haditha near the border with Jordan, is reported to be the world’s largest railway construction project under development today.

Another key project is the $7 billion Saudi Land Bridge, running from Dammam to Jeddah via Riyadh. This will be the first rail link between the Red Sea and the Gulf, and will cut the time taken to transfer containers between the two ports to 18 hours, compared with a sea voyage of between five to seven days. The project is reported to be going ahead despite a decade of delays and financial issues over privatization.

The Haramain high-speed rail link running for 450 km between Mecca and Medina is Saudi Arabia’s most important passenger transport project. When completed, it is expected to carry 10 million pilgrims and visitors between the holy sites each year. Projects are also under way to build light rail/metro systems to ease congestion in heavily populated cities including Riyadh, Mecca and Jeddah.

The UAE, the second-largest economy in the GCC after Saudi Arabia, triggered the regional rail revolution with its Dubai Metro project, whose first line opened in 2009. Dubai Metro, the Middle East's first driverless metro system, carried 367 million passengers in 2012. The UAE’s focus is now on Etihad Rail, a 1,200-km network which will be expanded in three phases across the seven emirates, with completion expected in 2018. Eventually the network will form part of a regional GCC railway grid, connecting the UAE to Saudi Arabia via Ghweifat in the west and Oman via Al Ain in the east, with freight trains running at up to 120 kph and passenger trains at speeds of up to 200 kph.

Dubai Metro (Photo:

Qatar, meanwhile, as part of expanding its infrastructure to host the Football World Cup in 2022, has committed to building a $35 billion national network comprising a four-line metro system, a light rail system and heavy rail lines for freight and passengers. The first phase of the new Doha Metro system is set to be commissioned by 2019 and will comprise 60% of the total network – 151 km and 48 stations. Qatari railways chief Saad Al Muhannadi estimates rail-related project returns for investors in Qatar over the next 20 years at about $38 billion.

Oman’s planned national rail network is set to receive a major share of the sultanate’s 2013 funding boost for public transport. A $15 billion system comprising over 1,000 km of dual track is proposed to connect industrial production centres in Sohar, Duqm and Salalah and carry large volumes of bulky cargo, especially minerals. There are also plans to build a metro system in the capital, Muscat.

Iraq’s rail network, opened almost 100 years ago, is now widely run-down after decades of disrepair, war and invasion, although several lines are still in use from Baghdad to Mosul, Samarra and Fallujah, among others. Upgrading the network and restoring other lines are priorities in the government’s reconstruction efforts, although specific funding on a large scale has yet to be committed.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Iran says it is adding 11,000 km to its railway network and plans to launch express freight services on the Tehran-Mashhad route. Jordan, however, bucked the trend for expansion by deciding in November 2012 to halt any new land acquisition for the National Railway Project until the country’s financial situation became clearer.

There are several large rail projects under way in North Africa too, although the sums involved are more modest than in the GCC. Morocco’s Casablanca-Tangier high-speed rail link is going ahead at an estimated cost of around $3 billion. Algeria is planning to spend $600 million on fast rail services. And several metro and tram systems are planned in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. Casablanca's new 31-km tram system launched in December 2012 and the Algiers metro, which finally opened in 2011 after over 20 years of construction delays, has three extensions in progress.

Morocco's Casablanca-Tangier TGV (Photo: Global Arab Network)

Egypt, beset by a spate of railway accidents that claimed dozens of lives, pledged at the start of 2013 to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrading the inadequate rail infrastructure to stop more disasters. Other plans include a new electric railway system from Alexandria to Cairo and a line from Beni Suef to Asyut, both funded by the World Bank, and a new metro extension in Cairo with a loan from the EU and France.


High-speed rail services will reduce journey times substantially. The Jeddah-Riyadh link is expected to slash passengers’ journeys to six hours instead of the current 10 to 12 hours by bus. But freight markets are the key drivers for the development of Middle East rail networks, especially in the GCC countries. According to Bechtel’s Amjad Bangash, studies have shown that trains carry freight with nearly 10 times the energy efficiency of trucks.

“Rail freight is particularly attractive across long distances… Centuries ago, the Silk Route connected trade routes into an extensive transcontinental network. In the same spirit, the development of the GCC network could have a transformational effect on international trade and commerce in the region,” he believes.

Graeme Overall, business development director of Etihad Rail, maintains that in addition to economic growth and diversification, which are “the key drivers for building a national freight network in the UAE,” moving bulk freight by train will benefit the environment by reducing the energy-intensive high impact use of road transport, while alleviating congestion will improve road safety.


Building MENA rail networks involves numerous challenges, many of them specific to the region’s climatic conditions and environment. Geoff Leffek, regional rail director at Hyder Consulting, in an interview with the Dubai-based Construction Week website, listed the biggest issues as “sand and dust, particularly build-up on rails; patronage forecasting, as ridership forecasting is challenging in places with little or no existing public transport; energy demand, because power requirements have not always been tied up with utility providers; and climatic conditions such as temperature extremes, humidity, harsh sunlight, etc…”

Building lines that would allow train speeds of over 300 kph, achieved by the French TGV or the Japanese “bullet train”, might not be technically feasible in the desert where the movement of sand dunes can disrupt track beds. Engineers from Etihad Rail have looked for solutions from China, which has used plants that can turn sand dunes to clay over 20 to 30 years, and Saudi Arabia, which has sand-sucking locomotives that push sand particles away from the engine.

Persuading people to travel by train in a region where rail transport has been seen as down-market and unappealing may also be an issue. Colin Best, editor of the MENA Rail News business website, told The Middle East that each country has different reasons for developing its rail infrastructure, whether to relieve major road congestion in capitals such as Riyadh and Doha, to cater for professionals in new residential areas such as Lusail in Qatar, or to transport pilgrims to and from Mecca, “where the influx of visitors is substantial and the number of buses required has started to become a logistical nightmare”.

And while public-private partnerships are increasingly helping to fund the huge costs of GCC rail projects, the credit crunch and its consequences have diminished the willingness of banks to finance long-term projects. Not all the rail projects proposed may be able to amass the expected level of private funding.

Other essentials to building a seamless GCC-wide regional rail network include developing individual country networks according to uniform standards and specifications, ensuring interoperability and streamlining and harmonizing customs procedures.

As David Lupton, transport economist and a former project manager of the GCC rail feasibility study, told Reuters news agency in October 2012, “a key challenge is ensuring that the railways being built do actually connect… I get the impression that national priorities may dominate.”


Tuesday 12 March 2013

Middle East renewable energy projects seek investors

By Peter Feuilherade

The largely untapped potential of abundant solar resources in the Middle East and North Africa region is attracting increasing investment in several renewable energy projects.
Masdar "smart city" takes shape in Abu Dhabi
This article was first published in The Middle East magazine, March 2013
Oil producing states in particular are looking for ways of reducing their own dependence on diminishing fossil fuels. Another incentive is that they can earn far more by exporting their oil instead of using it domestically.

Energy consumption in the Middle East has grown rapidly in the last five years, increasing by 22% between 2007 and 2011. The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that the region’s energy demands will quadruple by 2050.

One of the main factors behind the region’s ever-increasing consumption of electricity is population growth, which the IAE puts at around 1.5% a year. According to the World Energy Council, a UN-accredited organization, the Gulf region alone will require 100 gigawatts (GW) of additional power by 2020 to meet increased demand, running at 7.7% annually.

In 2011 global renewable energy investment reached a record $257 billion, although the MENA region accounted for only $5.5 billion, just over 2 per cent of the total.

Political and social turmoil led to investment across the MENA renewable energy sector plummeting by 18 per cent from 2010, despite constantly increasing demand for electricity fuelled by rising populations, growing urbanization and economic growth driven by industrialization.

However, as a 2012 report by Ernst & Young noted, “many countries in the region are seeking to increase the proportion of renewable energy in their generation mix as they seek to reduce local consumption of fossil fuels, meet ever-increasing local demand, and even start to diversify their economies away from hydrocarbons.”

At least 10 solar energy projects worth a combined $6.8 billion are currently under way in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the UAE, Kuwait and Oman, according to research specialists Ventures Middle East.

Morocco solar energy project (Photo: Global Arab Network)
Three years ago Morocco invested $9 billion in a national solar plan whose long-term aim is to provide nearly 40% of the country’s energy needs. It is now looking for another $1.25 billion in funding for a concentrated solar power (CSP) project, of which a quarter has been provided by the African Development Bank, with the World Bank and the European Investment Bank also participating.

Masdar, the renewable energy company backed by the government of Abu Dhabi, the UAE's richest emirate, invests in clean energy technologies either directly or through venture capital or private equity funds. As well as its 100-MW CSP plant in Abu Dhabi, Masdar runs solar power plants in Spain and a 1,000-MW offshore wind farm in the UK. And the UAE is developing a photovoltaic solar project in Dubai which will require investment of some $3.5 billion.

Oman, another front-runner in the Middle East renewable energy field, plans to produce 10% of its total electricity requirement from renewable energy resources by 2020 and is working with German investors to manufacture solar panels locally for domestic use and export.

Ambitious plans

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are forecast to lead the generation of renewable energy in MENA, but other countries have ambitious plans too.

Saudi Arabia is seeking investors for a $110 billion solar power programme over the next two decades to produce 41 GW by 2032, of which 25 GW would be produced from solar thermal plants and the rest generated from photovoltaic panels.

Qatar is building a $1.1 billion solar-grade polysilicon production plant intended to be the foundation of the country’s solar industry, providing materials for the manufacture of solar panels. The stadiums where Qatar will host the 2022 football World Cup in intense summer heat will use solar energy to power their climate control systems.

And Iraq, despite having the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves, is to spend up to $1.6 billion on solar and wind power plants over the next three years to add 400 MW to the national grid to help curb daily power cuts.


But the MENA renewable energy sector has suffered setbacks too. In late 2012, the German technology giants Siemens and Bosch pulled out of Desertec, a Munich-based $ 500 billion initiative which plans to produce electricity from huge solar thermal power plants in the Middle East and North Africa to supply some of the energy needs of the region and Europe too.
Desertec - mired after five years
The German multinationals cited economic factors for their withdrawal from the venture, which has achieved little on the ground since it was launched five years ago. And persistent political instability in parts of the region was also blamed for waning interest in Desertec by many European governments, some of them, like Spain, more concerned by the crises in their own ailing economies.

However, new private partners have expressed interest in joining the project, along with China's national grid corporation. If the project stays on course, by 2050 these solar power plants could supply up to 15% of Europe's electricity needs as well as a substantial portion of the power needs of the producer countries.

 “Highly attractive” for investors

The renewable targets set by some MENA countries are certainly ambitious. Egypt and Qatar say they will produce 20% of their energy from renewables by 2020 and 2024 respectively. Algeria has plans to produce 22 GW of power from renewables between now and 2030. Saudi Arabia has announced targets of 10% by 2020 and Kuwait 15% by 2030. Only time will tell if these targets are realistic, or rather a mirage.

And while the MENA region’s potential for renewable energy is huge, so too are the sums involved. A November 2012 conference paper by experts from Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute estimated that to create another 120 GW of new MENA power generation capacity by 2017 would require as much as $250 billion, when transmission and distribution costs were included.

Geopolitical analyst Jen Alic of believes the situation in Europe, where some governments have cut renewable energy subsidies, particularly in the solar sector, and others are considering cuts, may boost funding for MENA renewable energy projects.

“Solar investors in Spain, German, Italy and the United Kingdom are increasingly open to seeking opportunities outside Europe in order to survive in a potentially zero-subsidy environment. On this level, the Middle East is highly attractive. North Africa is less so, due to regulatory ambiguities and stability concerns, but the potential is vast for anyone willing to take the risk,” Alic argues.

Monday 14 January 2013

Foreign investments a vote of confidence in Middle East e-commerce

 By Peter Feuilherade

Continuing broadband penetration across most of the Middle East and North Africa has not only boosted the numbers of Facebook and Twitter users but is also a major factor in the steady growth of e-commerce.

This article was first published in The Middle East magazine, January 2013 issue.

Electronic commerce, or e-commerce, is the buying and selling of products and services over the internet and other electronic systems.

There are currently more than 72 million internet users in Arab countries, who spend an average of two hours online daily. Euromonitor International forecasts a 54.7 per cent increase in internet users in the MENA region from 2012 to 2020, as more content in Arabic becomes available. There are more than 250 million mobile subscriptions in the region, with Saudi Arabia leading mobile sector growth.

Estimates of the current value of the region’s e-commerce market vary considerably.

The Jordan-based Arab Advisors Group puts the value of e-commerce related transactions in the Middle East at about $11 billion a year. The global e-commerce business PayPal, which launched its Middle East operations in November 2012, is similarly optimistic, estimating e‑commerce in MENA to be worth $9 billion in 2012.

A study by Visa and Interactive Media reported much lower figures, albeit based on data from 2010. It said that the UAE led the way among the Gulf states in e-commerce spending, with sales reaching about $2 billion in 2010, accounting for 55 to 60 per cent of total GCC e‑commerce sales. Saudi Arabia was the second largest market, with an estimated $520 million, followed by Qatar ($375 million), Kuwait ($280 million), Bahrain ($175 million) and Oman ($70 million).

But according to Euromonitor, online shoppers in three key markets - the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt - spent just over $1 billion on internet retail sites in 2011, a figure expected to double by 2016.

Since only 15 per cent of businesses in the region have an online presence (according to Google), the take-up of e-commerce has been slow. And with many consumers still wary of paying for goods online, 70 per cent of the region’s e-commerce deals are cash-on-delivery.

In the words of the New York Times, e-commerce in the Middle East “is still relatively young and fragmented, extremely capital intensive, and facing logistical hurdles that have led many sites to shut down… But success stories are now starting to emerge.”

Foreign investment

In recent months international investors have committed tens of millions of dollars to three of the Middle East’s largest online retailers., the region’s largest online retailer with a customer base of eight million, secured $45 million from Naspers, a South African multinational company, and Tiger Global, a New York hedge fund. This marked the largest investment made in an e-commerce and internet business in the Middle East since the 2009 sale of Arabic-language internet venture, the largest portal in the Arab world, which was sold for $165 million to Yahoo!, the second-most popular internet search engine.

JP Morgan Chase and Blakeney Management invested $20 million in Namshi, a UAE-based online retailer focusing on fashion and footwear.

And Marka VIP, a sales site focusing on luxury goods, raised $10 million from multiple international venture capital firms.

Market leaders

In the GCC, the UAE is the market leader in e-commerce spending. With more than three-quarters of UAE households having broadband-enabled computers, the growing number of middle- and high-income consumers online has driven the growth of internet retail sales.

Saudi Arabia not only leads social gaming consumption and mobile internet subscriptions in the MENA region, but also ranks second in e‑commerce sales in the GCC region, and represents the biggest retail sector in the region.

“Being able to capture the Saudi Arabian market is a critical success factor for e-commerce ventures in the Arab region,” according to Hassan Mikail, regional manager for e-commerce at Aramex, a global shipping firm based in Amman.

In Jordan, a survey by Arab Advisors in April 2012 showed “a significant growth” in e-commerce, with increases in both the number of people purchasing items online and the amount of money being spent, from $192 million in 2010 to $370 million in 2011.

In Egypt, according to Euromonitor, online expenditure is expected to more than triple in the next four years, with Egyptians spending as much as $447 million on e-commerce in 2016.

And in Morocco, again according to Euromonitor, internet retailing was one of the most dynamic retailing formats in 2011, with current value growth of 18 per cent, albeit from a low base.



Customer aversion to online payments, logistics and curbs on regional trade, including complex and different customs, tax and border regimes are obstacles to MENA e-commerce companies trying to compete on price with traditional retailers.

In Egypt, for example, the Central Bank prohibits sending funds abroad until they are checked through the Central Bank itself, which usually takes around a week, impeding the operation of international e-payment services. And as The Economist notes, concerns about money laundering and financing of terrorist networks mean that new payment providers “not only have to deal with the usual red tape but also cope with layers of additional regulation”.

There is also a lot of work ahead to raise consumer awareness about e‑commerce. Historically, internet users in the Arab world have been more active on news and social media sites rather than transaction-based websites. Consumer mistrust in e-commerce is still widespread. A survey by the consultancy Booz & Company and Google found a general reluctance to buy goods online because of worries about fake websites or concerns over payment security and the delivery of purchases. Another study showed that 45 per cent of credit card holders in the UAE preferred not to use their cards online because they were afraid of fraud.

Mobile broadband access charges across most MENA are high by any global standards. In the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, producers of apps, games and e-books are looking to cash in on the high ownership levels of web-connected mobile phones and tablets, but for this to happen, more books and content in Arabic must be made available.

In spite of these obstacles, the optimism of e-commerce advocates continues to grow. It is bolstered by regular forecasts of spectacular growth to come, such as the November 2012 report that online travel bookings in the Middle East are expected to account for 22 per cent of all travel bookings made in the region within the next two years, with a total value of $15.8 billion.
In the words of Elias Ghanem, managing director of PayPal Middle East and North Africa, “mobile and online commerce is very popular in North America and Europe, but it is still in its infancy in the Middle East…  However, mobile technology is hugely popular and people are gaining confidence in online retailing here, through exposure to daily deals, private sales, airlines websites etc.”