Madinah Metro – A unique challenge

How do you drill a rail tunnel through lava? That is one of the questions facing the construction of a new metro system in Saudi Arabia’s fourth-largest city, Madinah.

In 2020, Madinah hopes to commission a new three-line metro network and add to the Middle East’s growing number of current urban rail projects. It will be one of several metro systems scheduled to open within the next 10 years, including Doha in 2018, Mecca in 2019 and Abu Dhabi in 2021.

Constructing the network within this timeframe is ambitious – like many rail projects in the region. Besides the challenges of delivering a major infrastructure project in Saudi Arabia’s second-holiest city, the Madinah Metro will require some clever engineering.

The project was presented by Mamdouh M Tarabishi, Public Transport Program chief executive, Al Madinah Al Munawarah Development Authority, and CH2M Hill’s global rail director, Mark Loader, at Middle East Rail 2015 earlier this week. CH2M Hill has been acting as an advisor to the project for the past 12 months.

Madinah sits beside the Harrat Rahat lava plain –  the largest volcanic field in Saudi Arabia. With around 25 kilometres of the route being built underground, Mark Loader said that the technical challenges involved in this aspect of the project should draw the attention of inquisitive engineers from around the world to the region.

Photo: shahreen /
Photo: shahreen /

“To me as an engineer, this creates a unique technical challenge. How do you build a tunnel through lava?” said Loader.

The volcanic geology is coupled with the sensitivity that will have to be taken whilst working around the existing infrastructure.

By 2040, it is predicted that the Al Madinah region will see its population double to between 2.6 and 3 million people. However, much of the demand for a new public transport system is not created by residents but by the millions of visitors and pilgrims who travel to the city every year.

The Madinah Metro was approved as part of the city’s public transport master plan in 2014. The system will consist of 92.7 kilometres of new railway throughout the city and 71 new stations. One main heavy maintenance depot and two satellite light maintenance sites will ensure a reliable service from the network’s fleet.

Lines will run north east – south west (Green), north west – south east (Blue) and east – west (Red). With Madinah’s station now built, the network will also connect to the Haramain high-speed line linking the city with Mecca and Jeddah.


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