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Sun 24 Dec 2017 11:47 AM

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Cars 'no longer king' in Middle East as rails make comeback

People and governments across the region are putting their money into fast trains that can go around, over or under traffic to reduce congestion and save time, according to Curtin University Professor Peter Newman.

Cars 'no longer king' in Middle East as rails make comeback
Dubai has two metro lines with 45 stations, and three extra lines being planned, while an integrated light rail and bus system is largely complete.

While cheap oil in the Middle East led to widespread car use, new vehicle sales have dropped due to the growth of rail in the region, according to Professor of Sustainability at Australia-based Curtin University, Peter Newman.

Speaking to Arabian Business, Newman said railways have become increasingly popular in the region today, with Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh metro network of six lines scheduled to open in 2019, including a hi-speed rail linking Jeddah International Airport to Mecca and Medina.

In the UAE, Dubai has two metro lines with 45 stations, and three extra lines being planned, while an integrated light rail and bus system is largely complete. Kuwait also has a metro set to launch in 2023.

“The masses are putting their money into fast trains that can go around, over or under the traffic and take up about 1/20th of the space. Consumers, especially millennials, are also not keen on living in far distant suburbs, where very little happens, raising the trend to build back into the city,” he said.

New car sales are also dropping partly due to the rise of ride sharing services provided by firms such as Uber, as well as traffic congestion in populated cities. In the GCC alone, they have dropped 30 percent in the first quarter of 2017 compared to last year, with sales in the UAE falling 28 percent, and by 38 percent in Saudi Arabia and 41 percent in Bahrain, according to a report by Autodata Middle East.

Newman added that sales of autonomous and electric vehicles are also on the rise.

“The dramatic move to autonomous vehicles (AV) is just as obviously associated with electric vehicles (EV) as the technologies are parallel in their advantages in creating better futures for cities and regions. The most significant new kind, AV-EV, is the ‘trackless train’ which will transform the transport niche now being occupied by light rail and to a large extent by buses, especially Bus Rapid Transit, which can carry 300 to 500 people at 70kph, can fit into road systems and has a magnetic painted strip for tracks,” he said.

The trackless train also has batteries on the roof, is recharged at stations in 30 seconds and is a quarter of the cost of light rail. It can enable AV-EV links with different kinds of local shared mobility systems, which can be fed into the station precincts and be recharged from the same solar-recharger, Newman said.

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