RIYADH: AlUla’s battery-powered tram is a testament to Saudi Arabia’s journey towards an innovative and sustainable transport system, insists a senior official at the company behind its project.
Speaking to Arab News, Mohammed Khalil, managing director of Alstom KSA, said the project – which spans 22.4km with 17 stations – marks the world’s longest non-catenary, battery-powered tram line.
He added that this demonstrates a key focus on reducing carbon emissions and green transport.
“As part of Saudi Vision 2030, (the tram) supports the country’s commitment to environmental stewardship,” Khalil said, adding: “This innovative transportation system plays a key role in reducing carbon emissions and advancing green technology .
“Battery-powered trams that rely on electricity from renewable energy lead to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, reducing dependence on fossil fuels.”
The vehicles used in this project differ from their traditional counterparts in that they run on rechargeable batteries instead of overhead electrical lines.
This reduces the need for extensive infrastructure, allowing the system to remain environmentally conscious whilst also leading to a quieter and more aesthetically pleasing urban environment.
In AlUla, a destination that is home to some UNESCO World Heritage Sites and whose identity depends on culture and heritage reserves, this feature becomes especially valuable.
Alstom, a global leader in smart and sustainable mobility, will employ innovative technology to integrate the tram into the cultural fabric of AlUla, said the MD.
The technology, known as Citadis B, allows the vehicle and its charging system to offer rapid ground charging, making it efficient and less visually intrusive.
He added that the project not only contributes to environmental sustainability, but also to the economic and cultural sustainability of AlUla.
“Boosting tourism and stimulating local businesses aligns with Saudi Arabia’s goal of diversifying its economy beyond oil,” said Khalil.
The tram was designed to respect the region’s rich cultural heritage, ensuring development that preserves historical significance, Khalil said, noting that this balance between economic growth and environmental responsibility demonstrates the core values of sustainability that are central to the city’s Vision 2030. Saudi Arabia.
In order to integrate these values into its execution, mixing cultural and historical elements in the design and functionality of the project, the company will use the traditional aesthetics of the historic Hedjaz railway.
This transport network was a narrow gauge railway that ran from Damascus to Medina, through the Hejaz region of modern-day Saudi Arabia, with a branch to Haifa on the Mediterranean Sea.
Therefore, by implementing elements of its design into the modern tram, the design will serve as a bridge between AlUla’s rich past and its dynamic future.
The executive highlighted that this will be achieved through a design that mirrors the local architectural style, ensuring that the trams complement the historic neighborhoods they connect, with each tram being “specially adapted to reflect the unique character and needs of the region”.
He added: “These include external designs that blend in with the local surroundings and internal adaptations that enhance the passenger experience whilst offering a glimpse of the region’s heritage.”
Additionally, Khalil said features such as the open observation deck, a low-floor design for easy boarding, climate-sensitive air conditioning and dynamic onboard travel information systems are all tailored to provide an immersive travel experience.
The customized trams will be manufactured at Alstom’s production sites in France, including La Rochelle, for both design and construction.
The company, which has been active in Saudi Arabia’s transport sector for more than 70 years, supported the Haramain high-speed rail line between Makkah and Medina.
It also supplied the automated people movement system for Jeddah King Abdulaziz International Airport, which has been in passenger service since 2020, and has been maintained by Alstom since 2022.
According to the administrator, the company is “very proud” of its continued local presence in the Kingdom, adding that its vision is fundamentally aligned with supporting the Middle East in its “ambitions to become a prominent business center, achieved through the redevelopment of mobility and introducing tomorrow’s sustainable transport solutions.”
As part of ongoing transportation solutions, Khalil cited the recent demonstration of the hydrogen-powered Coradia iLint train in Riyadh, adding that this marks a significant milestone in green transportation initiatives not only in Saudi Arabia, but also in the Middle East and Africa. .
“This initiative, part of the memorandum of understanding signed between Alstom and SAR (Saudi Arabian Railways) at InnoTrans in September 2022, sees the first introduction of a hydrogen-powered train in the region,” he said.
The Coradia iLint, notable for being the world’s first passenger train powered by hydrogen fuel cells, underwent a trial run in November 2023, covering 34 kilometers on the Riyadh Eastern Network.
The train was considered “revolutionary” by the director in its environmentally friendly approach, due to its ability to produce electrical energy for propulsion without any direct carbon dioxide emissions.
Khalil said the demonstration goes beyond the “technological marvel” of the train itself, as it aligns with Saudi Arabia’s overarching sustainability goals and Vision 2030 objectives.
“As a country committed to the Saudi Green Initiative, this measure reinforces its dedication to an environmentally sustainable future,” said Khalil
As countries in the region continue to strive to achieve ambitious net-zero emissions targets, the company remains steadfast in delivering sustainable mobility around the world.
Its investment in local maintenance expertise has allowed Alstom to build a solid foundation in the region, according to Khalil, an effort he noted he is confident will “contribute to the success of future projects such as the AlUla tram.”
On the AlUla tram project, Alstom service teams will leverage mobile workshops to provide local maintenance staff with temporary access to special tools and equipment needed for overhauls.
Furthermore, the company will utilize the local capabilities it has built so far. Brake overhaul experts from Alstom’s Pinto site in Spain will organize training sessions for the team in AlUla, sharing their knowledge and developing local capabilities.