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Inspiro: High-tech metro from Austria for Riyadh

Riyadh is the capital of Saudi Arabia. Roughly 5.9 million people live there. Most get around the city by car, and the infrastructure is designed for this. The average driver spends an hour and a half a day stuck in traffic. The only public transportation in the city at present is buses. But that is to change, and soon. Plans are now in place to build a complete metro system with six lines in the desert metropolis. Because the king wishes it.

The metro is one of the most important projects for the 89-year-old monarch. And he wants to see the system begin service. So everything is to be completed by 2019. The plan is for driverless, air conditioned and energy efficient high-tech trains, tracks that run in tunnels and on viaducts, and impressive stations. Star architect Zaha Hadid has even been hired for the latter, among others.

One and a half billion euros for 74 Inspiro trains

The city is investing 16.3 billion euros in the project. Because of the immense scope of the undertaking, three consortiums were commissioned to build the metro lines. Siemens is working together with the US construction contractor Bechtel and the Saudi construction firms Almabani and Consolidated Contractors. Together, they won a contract to build two complete metro lines. An order worth 7.5 billion euros.

Of this, 1.5 billion euros are earmarked for Siemens. This will finance work including 74 state-of-the-art Inspiro metro trains. Thanks to its outstanding energy efficiency and passenger comfort, the Inspiro recently won the State Mobility Prize from the Austrian Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology. The cars are being manufactured in Vienna, where Siemens operates a competence center for metros. The bogies are being supplied by the plant in Graz.


Sandra Gott-Karlbauer

Sandra Gott-Karlbauer, head of worldwide business with vehicles for public transportation at Siemens – Photo: Siemens

Sandra Gott-Karlbauer, CEO of the Siemens Urban Transport business unit, spoke at the Austrian Railways Rail Innovation Forum about the importance of the Riyadh project for Austria in terms of industrial policy. Shortly before this, she met with futurezone to talk about the Inspiro platform and the contract from Saudi Arabia.

futurezone: What makes the Inspiro series so innovative?
Sandra Gott-Karlbauer: We began the development of the Inspiro platform by assessing the needs of our customers. Metro operators are focusing more and more on the life cycle costs, in other words the acquisition price plus energy and maintenance costs. Energy costs make up a large share of this. The best way to reduce them is to cut the weight of the vehicle. The Inspiro platform is between ten and twenty percent lighter than a normal metro. This makes it one of the lightest and most energy-efficient metros in the world.

How did you cut this weight?
We did different things. On the one hand, the Inspiro uses a lightweight aluminum shell. We also integrated different systems, for example by using a traditional cable channel for multiple purposes. We use an aluminum-cork sandwich floor. It is lighter, insulates better, and absorbs sound well.

Inside the Inspiro – Photo: Siemens

How important is the design?
The fundamental goal of every metro system should be to get more people off the street. That requires good, intelligent design. We had a vision for the platform in the beginning: It should offer something of a club atmosphere. We wanted to find a truly outstanding and unique design. We wanted to generate a major impact like in Lisbon, where all the tourists ride the old tram, or in Moscow, where everyone looks at the beautiful stations. One design issue was lighting. And there is no equipment whatsoever in the passenger compartment. We invested a great deal in intelligent design concepts that make the trains not only more attractive, but also easier to maintain.

The Inspiro is called a platform. How can the trains differ?
A platform does not mean that you always have the same trains. Every operator has a unique image that they want to maintain. And we cannot have only one train form for technical reasons. Tunnels have different widths, curve radiuses, and degrees of slope. So what a platform is, is a set of turnkey modules that can be used to adapt a solution to the specific needs of an operator.

What are the special requirements for Riyadh?
Air conditioning is one of the greatest challenges in Riyadh. The tracks run not only under ground, but also above ground in many areas. The environmental conditions are very extreme. The heat is intense. This means you need very good air conditioning and redundant systems. If an air conditioning system fails, the temperature may not jump to 50 degrees Celsius in the train. A metro has to work all the time, it must be absolutely reliable. That is a fundamental requirement. So we are always striking a very fine balance between innovation and availability. Between proven and new technologies.

The Inspiro variant in Warsaw – Photo: Siemens

When was the Inspiro platform introduced?
The Inspiro platform is sort of my “baby.” We developed it in 2009. I was the platform head at the time. The Inspiro was unveiled in Dubai in 2010. The first orders came from Warsaw and Munich. The first trains went into service in Warsaw a few weeks ago. Mid-capacity platforms are used in Munich and Europe. Some cities need wider and larger high-capacity vehicles, for example Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. But mid-capacity trains will also be used in Riyadh.

Mid-capacity despite a population of 5.9 million?
This does not depend as much on the size of the city as on the operator concept. One variable in this is the so-called headway, in other words the intervals between trains. These are usually two to three minutes, but there are cities where they are as short as 90 seconds. Systems run with such intervals in Tokyo and Moscow, for example. The short headway allows operators to move an extremely large number of passengers. Optimizing the headway requires good rail automation systems.

Who is responsible for what in your consortium for Riyadh?
Together, we are delivering a turnkey system. Bechtel, Almabani, and Consolidated Contractors are handling all of the construction. Siemens is delivering the vehicles, the rail automation, the power supply system, the platform screen doors – the automatic doors on the platforms, since the system runs fully automatically without drivers – and the central control system for the line.

The metro in Riyadh will be driverless – Photo: Siemens

Your consortium won the contract for two of six metro lines. Why did you not win all of them?
We are completing lines one and two, Bombardier is building line three, and the Alstom consortium is responsible for four, five, and six. Our section is the largest. The work is being split up because six lines are to go into service within five years. No one can do that alone. The scope of the project would be too great.

Are the individual consortiums designing their respective lines differently?
No, a uniform design will be used for all lines. Aside from iconic buildings, like that designed by Zaha Hadid, the design will be the same for all consortiums. The trains will also look the same in the end. Everything has been harmonized.

All Inspiro trains for Riyadh are being built in Austria. Why?
The lead factory, the lead engineering, and all lead functions for urban transport at Siemens are here in Vienna. The conditions here are optimal – engineering, manufacturing, purchasing, and sales are seamlessly integrated, for example. That is very important, and makes coordination much easier. The worldwide bogie manufacturing center for Siemens is located in Graz. This means that the majority of the value creation for the vehicles is taking place in Austria.

How will the trains be brought to Riyadh?
We will tow the trains to Antwerp with a single locomotive. Then they will be taken to Saudi Arabia by cargo ship, and then to Riyadh by truck. The first trains will be delivered in 2016. Test operation will begin at the end of 2018 to ensure that the entire system works correctly.

Sketch of a metro platform without platform screen doors – Photo: Siemens

There are special social rules that apply in Riyadh, for example the strict separation of men and women. How will that work in the metro?
There will be three classes. First class, family class, and single class. First class is for men, family class is for families, and single class is for men. This separation into classes is required everywhere in the region. They also have this in the metro in Dubai, for example.

Men are not allowed in the family class?
Yes, but only if they are a family member.

Where do women ride when they are traveling alone?
Women are allowed to ride in the family class alone.

Many people feel that the introduction of the metro will trigger a small social revolution because it will make women in Riyadh more independent. What does Siemens think about perhaps causing gentle change through innovation?
We tend to take a very Europe-centric view on this issue. The world has different cultures. It is not our place to judge the rest of the world based on our own opinions. I prefer not to comment on what social changes the metro in Riyadh will bring. I feel fortunate to have a part in modernizing the infrastructure there.

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David Kotrba

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