A city from scratch to new rail lines: How Bechtel is helping transform Saudi Arabia

Fri, 2015-04-10 06:00 -- SCC Staff

Council Lead Partner Bechtel has had a long and successful presence in Saudi Arabia, spanning almost 70 years. In an interview that recently appeared in The Gulf Online, David Welch, the company’s president for Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and Africa, shared insights on Bechtel’s participation in some of the region’s biggest projects.


As one would expect, a company doing business in another country for that long needs to be able to build a strong working relationship – and that typically involves having the ability and willingness to meet changing needs.

Jubail (pictured above) is a massive ongoing project consisting of a city built from the ground up complete with all necessary infrastructure in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, and Bechtel has managed the project since its inception in the mid-1970s. It is one example of change Welch referred to – and building an industrial/economic city from scratch has been a test for the company’s engineering, construction and project management skills. It is considered one of the world’s largest civil engineering undertakings.

“In the early days in places like Jubail, the urgency was for the Royal Commission (for Jubail and Yanbu) to provide a platform of common infrastructure for investment in certain industries. But that time has moved on and expectations have changed. Today, Jubail requires everything from healthcare to housing to schooling for a good standard of life.

“Social demands within the kingdom of a rising population also presents new challenges for the leadership, in particular that of dispersing economic growth more effectively throughout the country and creating jobs away from the three major metropolitan areas.”

The third change, he said, is that his company has faced increasing competition over the years. Also, the geopolitical climate has changed.

The Riyadh Metro project, yet another test
Another key project for Bechtel is its leadership role in a consortium that won a roughly $10 billion contract to build two new rail lines in the Riyadh Metro area that will anchor the city’s new public transportation network, with four more to come. With its population expected to grow from almost six million to about eight million by 2030, the rail lines, stations and transfer stations are sorely needed.

It is, Welch admits, a very complex project. “We are the lump sum EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) contractor for two metro lines that are on a global scale," he told Gulf Online. "This is one of the biggest lump sum jobs Bechtel has ever done. When you are doing good design-build work in the heart of a major urban area, that sets you apart from other contractors in a very meaningful way."

He adds: "And the management of Bechtel, right up to the chairman, get up every day and ask 'How are we doing on the Riyadh project?' It is a complicated project -- there is little history of public transportation in the Arabian Peninsula and especially in Saudi Arabia, so this is quite an experiment. It involves putting six metro lines through the heart of a city that has about five million people. It can be very disruptive. There are a lot of stakeholders."

Bechtel has substantial and global experience with metro rail lines in complex settings. It also led the consortium that built the first phase of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail near Washington, D.C. and has a major role in London's massive Crossrail project.

Related resources…
Bechtel's Roadmap for Resilience