Abu Dhabi Metro and Light Railway Industry Briefing

Publication | May 2013


The UAE Emirate of Abu Dhabi has been planning to develop an integrated public transport system for some time. This is part of Abu Dhabi’s Economic Vision 2030, which has the overriding objective of gradually reducing reliance on oil and gas and diversifying the economy. The 2009 Surface Transport Master Plan set out an objective to develop an integrated transport infrastructure system in order to meet the demands of a population which is expected to rise to 2.6 million by 2030.

Plans for metro, light rail transport (LRT) and bus rapid transport (BRT) systems (the Project), are now gathering pace and on 1 May 2013 the Abu Dhabi Department of Transport (DoT) held an industry briefing which provided a summary of the technical aspects of the Project, the proposed procurement timetable and some initial details on the pre-qualification process.  It was stressed by the DoT that the information could be subject to change when the tender is formally issued.

Project Overview


The DoT plans one 18 km line, 5 km of which will be underground, to run through the centre of the main Abu Dhabi island, serving the central business district and major attractions. The scope of the metro package will encompass stations and ancillary buildings; civils (utility diversion, road, bridges, viaduct, tunnel and shaft construction); rolling stock; rail systems; and depot facilities. There will be 12 stations, eight above ground and four underground, and the line will be serviced by fully automated, 80m rolling stock. The DoT highlighted that it believed a challenge for bidders would be the requirement for the internal temperature of the rolling stock to be maintained at an air-conditioned temperature of 24 degrees centigrade.

Light Rail Transport (LRT)

The LRT network will comprise two lines covering the north section of Abu Dhabi island with one line running for 15 km with 24 stops and the other for 13 km with 21 stops. Both lines will run down the middle of roads, so the whole of the affected roads will need to be redesigned and constructed to incorporate pavements, traffic lanes, the tram and landscaping. The lines will be segregated from other traffic but will run at the same level as other traffic on the roads. The trams will be driver operated (so line of sight will be important), should be able to accommodate up to a maximum of 300 passengers, have a low floor to facilitate disabled access, have a ratio of seating to total capacity of 25 per cent and be air conditioned to 25 degrees centigrade (plus or minus two degrees). Three maintenance facilities will also form part of the LRT package.

Bus Rapid Transport (BRT)

The BRT network will comprise one closed loop which is 14 km long with 25 stops and will run either in the middle or at the side of roads, partially segregated from other traffic. Stations will be similar to the LRT network, buses will be driver operated (so again line of sight will be important), carry up to 160 passengers and will have the same seating ratio and air conditioning requirements as the LRT trams.

The analysis and conceptual design stage for the Project has now been completed and the DoT expects to complete its preliminary engineering, design and environmental analysis by the end of this year.

Contracting approach

Consistent with the approach currently being taken on other large metro projects in the region such as in Riyadh and Doha, the DoT intends to procure the various packages on a design and build (D&B) or design, build, operate and maintain (DBOM) basis depending on the package. All packages will be fully government-funded.

The metro will be procured under three separate contracts to cover:

  • below ground civil and station works (D&B)
  • above ground civil and station works (D&B)
  • depot, rail system (track) and rolling stock (DBOM)

The LRT and, we anticipate, the BRT packages will each be procured under a single contract on a DBOM basis, with any early works, such as road and landscaping, procured on a D&B basis.

The packages will be procured using FIDIC documentation. The DoT anticipates a four year construction phase for the LRT package and a five year construction phase for the metro. The length of the operation phases is yet to be determined.

Pre-qualification and timetable

Separate pre-qualification criteria will apply for the main elements of each of the metro, LRT and BRT packages namely:

  • Metro: civil infrastructure and stations below ground; civil infrastructure and stations above ground; rail system; rolling stock; operation and maintenance
  • LRT: civil infrastructure and stations; rail system; rolling stock; operation and maintenance
  • BRT: vehicles; infrastructure; and operation and maintenance

Detailed pre-qualification criteria will be set out in the pre-qualification documents but the briefing did underline that there will be a focus on credibility and ability to execute; quality of end product; declaration of backlog of work; and an excellent HSE record. The DoT will also be seeking a declaration from bidders on works they have won but have not been completed in order to establish the bidders’ capacity. Bidders will be encouraged to use local contractors in the UAE and will be expected to assume obligations in respect of promoting employment and training for Emirati nationals.

Interested parties are invited to form joint ventures or consortiums at the pre-qualification stage but it is not essential. However, any joint ventures established after this stage must include pre-qualified entities.

Foreign contractors and suppliers without an existing business presence in Abu Dhabi can pre-qualify. However, they will need to establish a local entity or a branch/representative office before tendering.

With the aim of contract award in 2015, the DoT outlined the following timetable:

  • May 2013: issue of solicitation of interest / expressions of interest;
  • June 2013: issue of pre-qualification documents;
  • July 2013: pre-qualification submissions;
  • August - October 2013: pre-qualification evaluation; and
  • Q1 2014: issue of RfP to pre-qualified bidders.

This Project represents another ambitious transport project in the GCC region, and following the successful completion of the US$7 billion Khalifa Port development last year, a sign of the renewed vigour behind infrastructure investment plans in Abu Dhabi. The timetable for pre-qualification is ambitious and so interested parties, if they have not done so already, will no doubt be looking to form alliances sooner rather than later.



Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson