Is Qatar’s rail network ready for the World Cup?

The long-awaited 2022 FIFA World Cup kicks off on November 20, attracting 1.2 million visitors to Qatar, a country with a population of just three million.

Although this is not the first time the country has staged a major sporting event – having already hosted tournaments such as the 2006 Asian Games and the FIFA Club World Cup – the increase in visitors will be good greater than anything she had known before. In 2015 and 2016, Qatar’s peak years for tourism, it averaged just 245,000 visitors per month.

FIFA’s decision to award the rights to Qatar has come under endless scrutiny as to whether the country has the infrastructure to host such a massive event, and that’s understandable.

When Qatar was confirmed as host in 2010, its rail network was non-existent. However, with the formation of Qatar Rail in 2011 – created to develop, operate and maintain passenger and freight rail infrastructure – Qatar has gone all out to ensure its transport network is ready to support the masses of football fans who will visit the city.

A rail network worthy of a World Cup

Nine years after securing World Cup rights, Qatar Rail has opened the doors to the Doha Metro, a three-line metro system spanning 37 stations across the capital. Carrying passengers at speeds of up to 100 km/h and connecting five of the eight World Cup stadiums, the system is expected to play a vital role in Qatar’s transport operations throughout the tournament.

The Red Line – which runs from Hamad International Airport in central Doha to Lusail, where the final will take place on December 18 – offers fully air-conditioned stations that fans will be free to enter and use throughout of the tournament. Ticket holders for a World Cup match will receive a “Haaya card”, a mandatory fan ID, which will allow them free access to Qatar’s public transport network from November 10 to December 23.

Each train will be equipped with public Wi-Fi systems in a bid to keep fans connected as they travel between venues, while those traveling in Gold Class (one of three compartments available, alongside the Standard and families), will have access to recharging the devices. points.

While Qatar has gone to great lengths to accommodate visiting fans, its authorities have also said it will make “no exceptions for foreigners who violate their laws”. With every train on the Doha Metro network fully equipped with CCTV, fans will need to behave on their best terms when traveling to and from matches.

The Doha Metro map, showing stadium locations for the 2022 World Cup. Credit: Qatar Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy

“If you consume alcohol before or after a game in the ‘Fan Zones’, be careful when you return to your hotel or accommodation as it will be considered ‘in public’ and you could therefore commit a crime”, Kate Fitzpatrick , EMEA regional director of security at World Travel Protection, said.

“Even actions like singing and dancing could be construed as being under the influence of alcohol, which is a crime, and outside of those areas you could be punished.”

The Doha Metro will be the centerpiece of Qatar’s rail network during the tournament. However, it is part of a larger expansion, which includes the new Lusail LRT tram system and a long-distance railway that will eventually pass through cities in Qatar, as well as other Council of Europe countries. Gulf Cooperation (GCC), including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Is Qatar’s rail network ready to go?

While major sporting events usually coincide with improvements in local transport infrastructure, the challenge for a country like Qatar was to determine the optimal level of expansion given its small population.

“For Qatar, the World Cup has essentially been a ‘no money’ tournament, although they find themselves in a somewhat difficult position – in particular, to decide what the optimal capacity of their new transport infrastructure should be” , says Simon Chadwick, professor. sports and geopolitical economy at Skema Business School.

“The country has a population of less than three million, so building too big a network would have been wasteful and unnecessary. However, with over a million people expected for the event, there is a risk that existing and new transport infrastructure will be inadequate.

Passengers traveling in the Gold Class section of the Doha Metro. Credit: Noushad Thekkayil/Shutterstock

“Indeed, the latter seems to have become a problem. The country has already opened its old international airport to complement the new Hamad International Airport. There are concerns about the capacity of the metro network, which has prompted the purchase of hundreds of electric buses and the introduction of traffic bans in the city center to allay fears that Doha will become extremely congested during the World Cup. world.

The Doha Metro typically operates 75 trains for 21 hours a day at speeds of up to 62 mph, providing a total capacity of 31,200. To ease congestion, Qatar Rail said it would increase services throughout the tournament, installing 110 trains instead, which would increase capacity to 45,700.

However, according to the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO), up to 200,000 spectators could attend matches at any one time, with host stadiums offering capacities of up to 80,000. be up to six times higher than normal, Qatar’s vastly improved rail services could still struggle to cope with the demands of the World Cup.

The lasting legacy of the 2022 World Cup

Recent improvements in Qatar’s transport network are not only due to the World Cup. In fact, Qatar Rail says the Qatar National Vision 2030 – first presented in 2008 – is the “blueprint” for these developments.

That said, with the Doha Metro project having set a world record for the most tunnel boring machines operating simultaneously in a single project, the speed at which these developments were completed suggests that the event certainly precipitated things.

“The reality is that a city’s political will — particularly in terms of not being hampered overall by a poor transportation system — often changes when an event is headed in its direction,” Chadwick says.

Whatever the reasons, these improvements will certainly contribute to realizing the economic, human and social developments promised by the National Vision.

A metrolink shuttle service waiting outside a metro station to provide travel from the metro. Credit: Game Photos/Shutterstock

As Qatar’s rail network takes shape, it significantly reduces traffic congestion in the city. According to Transport and Communications Minister Jassim Seif Ahmed al-Sulaiti, the Doha Metro and accompanying Metrolink bus service have already reduced congestion in the city by up to 25%.

While historical figures have estimated the loss of GDP due to congestion at 1-2%, figures from the Qatar Traffic Report 2021 show that this figure has halved to just 0.3% between 2020 and 2021.

And, with the Doha Metro running on electricity using driverless trains that offer better punctuality, less service traffic and lower energy consumption, the environmental cost is also much lower.

“The Doha Metro is a remarkable project,” said Michael Looby, Managing Director of ByrneLooby, an engineering company involved in the construction of the Doha Metro Green Line.

“He leaves a legacy not only to the community of Doha, the capital of Qatar, but also to the global engineering community, showing how engineering and design can inspire, innovate and contribute to green cities.”

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