A massive tunnel boring machine (TBM) operating on a section of the Doha Metro was slated to break ground near the Doha Golf Club this morning.
The breakthrough, which is being delayed until the evening because of technical difficulties, will mean Qatar Rail contractors have finished digging the tunnels for the northern section of the Red Line.
Approximately 85 percent of the tunneling work has now been completed on the project, up from 77 percent roughly six weeks ago.
Tunneling is scheduled to completely wrap up by this autumn.
One of three lines that are expected to open to passengers in three years time, the Red Line starts in Al Wakrah and heads north, passing through a station at Msheireb and West Bay.
From there, the line travels above ground past Qatar University and onto Lusail, where passengers can transfer to the currently under-construction Lusail light-rail network.
From end to end, the journey is expected to take 37 minutes. By car, the same trip would take an hour or more, according to Qatar Rail.
2020 opening possible
Officially, the Doha Metro is still scheduled to open to passengers in late 2019.
However, in a presentation today, a senior Qatar Rail official widened that window, saying the transit system would start operating in either the fourth quarter of 2019 or the first quarter of 2020.
A spokesperson later clarified to Doha News that the project is still on schedule, but that the the buffer is being built in due to the sometimes unpredictable nature of large construction projects.
The first phase will also include the Green Line, which will run from Al Rayyan Stadium to Msheireb via Education City, a trip that will take 24 minutes by rail compared to 54 minutes by car, according to Qatar Rail.
Meanwhile, it will take 21 minutes to take the Gold Line from its starting point at Villaggio Mall to the area around the old Doha International Airport, via Msheireb. That’s less than half the 46 minutes Qatar Rail said it takes to drive the same distance.
Combined, these lines run 85km, end to end.
But the trains run in opposite directions in parallel tunnels underground, so contractors have to dig through some 111km of sand and rock beneath the surface in preparation.
On many parts of the Doha Metro project, work is already shifting from tunneling to installing electrical equipment and completing the structure of the 37 stations that make up the first phase.
Of those, 17 are at the stage where concrete roofs are being cast.
After that, architectural finishes can start to be installed in the stations as other contractors begin laying tracks and installing signaling equipment.
The first train is scheduled to be delivered to Qatar Rail in the third quarter of 2017.
Some contractors on site today said that this part of the Red Line North tunneling works was actually ahead of schedule and that operations had to be slowed down last week so the TBM would not break through before today’s ceremony.
The TBMs working on the Red Line North each dug through an average of 30m per day, reaching a peak of 42m in a single day on March 29, 2015.
Qatar Rail officials said they were “delighted” by the progress in light of the challenges faced by contractors, namely the flooding of a section of the Red Line North last year that temporarily halted tunneling and damaged a TBM.
“The achievement today shows how effective our recovery operations were and that overall project progress was not affected,” Qatar Rail managing director Abdullah Al Subaie said to reporters today.
Several contractors told Doha News that keeping water out of the Red Line North tunnels – which run closer to Doha Bay than the other lines – was one of the biggest challenges of the project.
With pumps running constantly, some 247 billion liters of water – enough to fill nearly 100,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools – was removed from the Red Line North Tunnel.
It’s expected to take another day for the TBM near the golf club to completely emerge from the tunnel as large concrete rings, which form the walls of the tunnel, are installed behind it.
When its work is completed, the TBM will be partially dismantled before being transported to a Qatar Rail yard to be further disassembled.
This is a far easier task than Qatar Rail faced last year, when it moved several TBMs from completed sections of tunnels to other areas of the metro project that still needed to be excavated.
In those cases, entire roads had to be closed and, in some cases, street lights removed as trucks transported the massive equipment.
The vehicles moved so slowly along the road that contractors actually escorted it on foot, walking beside the trailer.