Saudi Arabia will spend about SR3 billion ($800 million) on land acquisition to build one of the world's largest metro systems in Riyadh, said Ibrahim Al-Sultan, president of the Arriyadh Development Authority.
"This is already budgeted and we are talking about SR3 billion compensation for the land to be acquired," he told Reuters. "The land is already chosen and the teams already started the process three months ago."
Riyadh Gov. Prince Khaled bin Bandar recently launched the $22.5 billion project, awarding contracts to three consortia for the design and construction of the system. The project will involve construction of six rail lines extending 176 km and carrying electric, driverless trains.
Design work will start immediately and construction will begin in the first quarter of 2014, officials said. The project is expected to be completed in 2019. Al-Sultan said land would be acquired for the metro in 35 locations but he did not expect the purchases to disrupt Riyadh's real estate market.
"We are keeping the process of acquiring all land needed for the project to a minimum, so that it will not affect the huge market of Riyadh," he said. Asked how the Riyadh metro would be financed, and whether the ADA might issue sukuk (Islamic bonds) to fund it, Al-Sultan noted that when Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah announced the budget surplus last year, he allocated SR200 billion ($53.3 billion) of it for public transport systems.
"This amount is already available at the central bank," Al-Sultan said without elaborating on financing options.
The project will require tens of thousands of workers, private sector companies have estimated.
Assembling this labor force to complete the project on time may be a challenge, because the country has been tightening controls on its large population of foreign workers in an effort to reduce unemployment among its citizens.
Al-Sultan said Saudis would participate in the project taking management and other positions, but operating the metro would be more important in terms of creating jobs for Saudis. "Up to 90 percent of the people running the metro will be Saudis," he said.
Before construction starts there will be eight months for government agencies to coordinate on obtaining the necessary foreign workers.