Saudi Arabia says Virgin Hyperloop One rapid-transit system will be catalyst for growth

Time: April 3, 2018



Saudi Arabia is deepening collaboration with Virgin Hyperloop One, a DP World-backed company developing the futuristic transportation concept inspired by Elon Musk, as the company seeks to explore commercial opportunities in the kingdom.

“We’re looking forward to advancing the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Virgin Hyperloop One while we develop innovative transport technologies like hyperloop, accelerating Vision 2030 objectives to transform the kingdom from a technology consumer to a technology innovator,” said Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He was speaking during a visit to Virgin Group founder Richard Branson’s space travel concept Virgin Galactic’s test site in Nevada this week.

The Crown Prince unveiled Virgin Hyperloop One’s proposed transit pod for a Vision 2030 Hyperloop system that could shrink journey times between Riyadh and Jeddah to 76 minutes from over 10 hours currently, positioning Saudi Arabia as the gateway to three continents, the company said. Travelling from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi would take 48 minutes compared to more than 8.5 hours today.

“Hyperloop is the catalyst to enable all fourth-generation technologies to flourish in the kingdom while creating a vibrant society and thriving economy through visionary cities and high-tech clusters,” the Crown Prince said. No formal deal with Virgin Hyperloop One has yet been signed.

The kingdom is ramping up investments in technology as it seeks to modernise its economy and reduce dependency on oil revenues under its economic roadmap Vision 2030.

Saudi Arabia and the British tycoon Mr Branson announced last October that the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the sovereign wealth fund, planned to invest around $1 billion into Virgin Group’s space ventures.

The hyperloop system is another potential investment. The techique, unveiled by businessman and inventor Elon Musk in 2013, uses pods riding on magnetic levitation systems that can shunt people and cargo at speeds of up to 700mph through an airless tube that works like a vacuum, its proponents say.

There are several firms attempting to bring the technology to market, including Mr Musk, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, and Virgin Hyperloop One, which is backed by the UAE ports operator DP World and whose chairman Sultan bin Sulayem is a board member.

In October, when Saudi Arabia announced plans to build a $500bn futuristic investment zone and city on the Red Sea coast called Neom, the chief executive of US-based Virgin Hyperloop One, Rob Lloyd, said Vision 2030 increased the potential for collaboration with the kingdom.

Six months on, that prospect has gathered pace. In February, the Mohammed Bin Salman Foundation (Misk) and Virgin Hyperloop One said they would launch an internship programme for Saudi engineering students in the US from June.

Now, in unveiling the proposed Vision hyperloop 2030 pod, the Crown Prince has given his strongest show of support yet for the pioneering technology.

“[Saudi Arabia] is at the forefront of innovative thinking around many new technologies as part of its Vision 2030. This is particularly true in two areas where we at Virgin are particularly focused: next generation space travel and Hyperloop technology,” Mr Branson said in a statement released by the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC.

“We look forward to extending these relationships further and welcoming their talented engineers into our Hyperloop test programme.”

Virgin Hyperloop One signed an agreement in February with the Indian state of Maharashtra to build the world’s first hyperloop route between Pune and Mumbai.

The company this week was said to have replaced three directors in a board shake-up several weeks ago, and a fourth was arrested, Bloomberg reported. The National has not yet received a response from Virgin Hyperloop One about the reports.

This article was first published in The National

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Latest hyperloop dream: 10 hour Saudi trip slashed to 76 minutes

Time: April 3, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO — The fantastical 700-mph transportation system known as hyperloop appeared to inch closer to a possible Saudi Arabian debut after a weekend gathering in the American desert.

On Sunday, Richard Branson, the chairman of Silicon Valley startup Virgin Hyperloop One, helped unveil a sleek hyperloop pod painted with the Saudi flag at the Mojave test site of Branson’s space company Virgin Galactic.

On hand for the event was Saudi defense minister Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, part of a broader tech tour that includes meetings with Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing, according to Bloomberg.

The Saudi kingdom, which is in the throes of radical cultural change that has seen many of its wealthiest citizens jailed but also promises new freedoms for women, has formulated a Vision 2030 plan that emphasizes a shift to renewable energy. Hyperloop runs on electricity that could be powered by solar.

“Hyperloop is the catalyst to enable all fourth-generation technologies to flourish in the Kingdom while creating a vibrant society and thriving economy through visionary cities and high-tech clusters,” the Saudi minister said in a statement.

Virgin Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd added that the visit and talks “kick off the next phase that will make [Virgin Hyperloop One] a reality in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

The Vision 2030 Hyperloop pod is identical to one Virgin Hyperloop One has been putting through tests at its private facility outside of Las Vegas. Although the tube-based magnetic levitation system in theory would be able to reach speeds of 700 mph, Virgin Hyperloop One’s current top pod speed is 240 mph, reached during a test in December.

Saudi Arabia is among a handful of countries that have entered into feasibility studies with the tech startup, which ultimately aims to sell its engineering services to anyone willing to plunk down billions to make the radical transportation concept a reality.

Other interested international parties include consortiums in Russia, India and Scandinavia.

In the U.S., the company recently announced a partnership with the Missouri Hyperloop Coalition, the University of Missouri System and the global engineering firm Black & Veatch to conduct an in-depth feasibility study for a hyperloop route along the I-70 corridor between St. Louis and Kansas City.

Although still in its testing phase, hyperloop — which was proposed in a 2013 white paper by Tesla CEO Elon Musk — is seen by proponents as a way to move people and freight at high speeds and at lower costs, given that electricity and momentum would combine to keep the pods moving almost effortlessly at near the speed of sound.

A trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco would shrink from a six-hour drive to a 30 minute hyperloop run, Musk has said. In Saudi Arabia, the 10-hour trip between Riyadh and Jeddah would take 76 minutes, says Virgin Hyperloop One and others that put together a feasibility study.

Critics note that the system still needs to meet a range of safety standards, especially considering its potential speed, and in some countries would run into complex right-of-way land issues when trying to secure locations for the above- or below-ground tubes.

Virgin Hyperloop One was among the quickest companies out of the gate, due in part to its co-founder, Shervin Pishevar, getting a green light directly from his friend Musk.

Pishevar left the company in early December amid accusations of sexual harassment, which he denied.

The company has managed to forge ahead despite the negative publicity, in part due to a $50 million investment by Branson, who after Pishevar’s departure became chairman.

Other companies exist in the alt-transportation space — including Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and Aurora, started by former Virgin Hyperloop One executives — but most have peeled off to focus on slight reinventions of the same general concept.

Most recently, Musk suggested he might get involved, focusing not on moving freight but commuters. Last month, Musk tweeted out an animation that showed a bus at ground level suddenly descending below ground to a tunnel drilled by his Boring Company.

This article was first published in USA TODAY

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California looks to Saudi Arabia for desalination expertise

Time: 30 March 2018


SAN FRANCISCO: As water shortages become a reality across the globe, authorities in drought-prone areas are looking to Saudi Arabia’s desalination industry for inspiration.
The Kingdom produces more desalinated water than any other nation, with 27 plants transforming sea brine into five million cubic meters of fresh water a day.
The industry has grown rapidly in recent years. In January, the Kingdom announced plans to invest more than $500 million (SR1.874 billion) to build nine plants in Jeddah.
It is not the only area trying to meet the needs of a growing population demanding more fresh water. After experiencing acute drought between 2011 and 2017, the US state of California is expanding desalination projects. Grants of $35 million were approved this year for a variety of desalination ventures as municipalities across the state seek to diversify water portfolios.
Experts in California have been studying the Kingdom’s desalination projects. “The value of what is going on in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world is the recognition that water … is necessary for both long-term community and economic survival, and that good planning is key,” said Paul Kelley, the executive director of CalDesal, a not-for-profit advocacy group. He added that Saudi Arabia’s foresight in planning for a “water resilient” future was a lesson that California would do well to follow.
Increasing both the volume and efficiency of water production is among the many goals laid out in Saudi Arabia’s National Transformation Program (NTP) 2020 and Vision 2030, which seeks to wean the country from oil reliance, and build a more sustainable economy. At a conference last month, the Minister of Environment and Agriculture announced a $1.3 billion investment in water technology projects to upgrade and further develop infrastructure.
While cutting-edge desalination technology has been developed in California’s top research institutions for decades, complicated regulatory frameworks and politicians have hindered the broader application of the process, said Yoram Cohen, director of the Water Technology Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles. “It’s one thing to develop the technology, it’s another to actually push for its deployment,” he added.
While acknowledging that the water needs of California vary greatly from those in Saudi Arabia, Cohen said the golden state could learn much from the political will shown in the Kingdom to prioritize desalination. “They’re moving forward,” he said of counterparts in Saudi Arabia.
In California, which sets strict limits on greenhouse-gas emissions, critics of desalination have long cited its environmental footprint as massive inputs of energy are required to run the plants separating salt from water.

However the industry may be moving toward a greener, future. In February, Saudi Arabia announced plans to develop a $58 million solar-powered desalination plant near King Abdullah Economic City. Construction began on the project this month, with the plant scheduled to be up and running by 2020.
It is an important step forward, Cohen said: “It illustrates that one can move toward sustainability in a dual mode — where you use renewable energy and you use renewable sea water.
“You don’t want to continue desalinating using precious energy sources, including petroleum or gas: solar energy is the way to go. That’s an investment in the future.”
Creativity and good-planning will be necessary as both Saudi Arabia and California develop resource-management plans for the future, Kelley said. While Saudi Arabia has been “pushing the innovative envelope” by investing in desalination projects and research, examples of poor governance abound.
Aside from the dramatic water shortages seen in California during the recent drought, the recent admission by municipal leaders that Cape Town would run out of potable water by this summer has renewed calls for investment in desalination. “They could well have done some desalination and followed the model of Saudi Arabia and other places around the world to make sure that at least a third of their water supply was drought-resistant,” Kelley said of Cape Town.
With global warming increasing temperatures worldwide and once-predictable weather patterns thrown into flux, the Kingdom’s commitment to reliable supplies will be “very applicable to the rest of the world,” he added.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi university team treats breast cancer patient with intraoperative electron radiation therapy for first time in Arab world

Time: March 24, 2018


RIYADH: A medical team at King Saud University (KSU) has performed successful surgery on a patient with early-stage breast cancer using intraoperative electron radiation therapy (IOERT) technology for the first time in the Arab world.
IOERT applies radiation directly to the tumor or tumor bed rather than healthy tissue during cancer surgery.
The successful surgery is another feather in the cap of KSU, which is leading the vanguard in academic excellence in the Kingdom.
Professor Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al-Saif, the head of the surgical team that carried out the surgery, told Arab News in an exclusive interview on Friday: “It is indeed a great feeling to be the ‘first to do’ something beneficial for humanity in the Arab world, thanks to Allah.”
“At the present time, breast cancer is being treated by five modalities of therapy, one of them is radiotherapy; which has been in the treatment arena for the past 50 years and it is improving as time goes by,” Al-Saif said.
“Classical radiotherapy is called whole breast irradiation (WBI ) and means irradiating the whole breast tissue, which has many side effects, especially on the heart, lungs, ribs and skin,” he said.
“IORT gives the patient the needed dose of radiation immediately after finishing the surgery while the patient is still under general anesthesia. This radiation dose is directed to the tumor bed and the immediate breast tissue surrounding it, which means the patient gets the benefits of irradiation and avoids the harms to a greater extent,” he said.
“There are many types of IORT, one of them is giving electron radiation as opposed to photons radiation and the scientific evidence supports electron therapy much more than supporting photon therapy,” he said. “In our case, we used electron therapy for the first time in the Arab world.”
“It is very important to emphasize that only patients with early-stage breast cancer may benefit from this technology,” he said. “Our plan is to increase public awareness about this disease so that patients can come to us at an early stage and benefit from this technology.”
The advantages of the technique include shortening the duration of the treatment period from six weeks to ten minutes; the radiation treatment at the time of surgery has a limited impact on the skin compared to conventional methods of radiation therapy.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia launches new council to boost film industry

Time: 21 March 2018


Saudi Arabia’s General Culture Authority (GCA) has announced the launch of a new Saudi Film Council (SFC) to develop and sustain the kingdom’s fledgling film industry.

In a statement, GCA CEO Ahmed Almaziad said that the establishment of the SFC is “a historic moment within our country’s cultural journey and will foster this important industry which plays a key role in overall economic growth and development.”

According to the GCA, the SFC will conduct talent development programmes, establish a regulatory framework, improve product infrastructure, find funding solutions and launch initiatives to promote the kingdom’s brand and culture.

“Given the incredible creative energy and talent within our country’s young, diverse population, Saudi Arabia is uniquely positioned to develop a vibrant and commercially successful film and content sector that tells Saudi stories at home and to the rest of the world,” said SFC CEO Faisal Baltyuor.

Baltyuor added that over the last several months the SFC has conducted a number of workshops with Saudi filmmakers and incorporated their insights into strategic initiatives that will be rolled out, beginning in 2018.

“By investing today in strategic initiatives that support industry growth across all industry pillars, the Kingdom can build a sustainable industry that generates significant employment opportunities and material GDP contribution to Saudi Arabia,” Baltyuor said.

Among the initiatives that SFC has planned for 2018 are a national fund for Saudi filmmakers, year-round training programmes and skills workshops, both within the kingdom and abroad.

This article was first published in Arabian Business

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Saudi Arabia’s 300kph train to be ready this year

Time:March 21, 2018

Riyadh: The $16 billion (SR60 billion, Dh58.7 billion) high-speed Haramain Express train is on track to roll out this year following delays, a senior Saudi official has said.
Nabeel Al Amoudi, Minister of Transportation and Chairman of the Saudi Railway Organisation, was quoted by Jeddah-based daily Arab News as saying that the new train service will be ready to serve the public this year, following final safety checks and operational readiness carried out for high-speed trains.

The service is expected to carry up to 60 million passengers a year, including millions of Haj and Umrah pilgrims. Construction started in March 2009.
Using electric propulsion that will drive the trains to an operating speed of 300kph, the express train is expected to cut travel time between the cities of Makkah and Madinah to under two hours, instead of six hours by bus.
The service is also expected to help ease road traffic congestion.

Japan’s “bullet trains”, also known as Shinkansen, have a maximum operating speed of 320kph.
Haramain Express has been undergoing tests since the end of 2017, said Al Amoudi.
The network has also been organising regular trips in which a large number of officials of government, non-government and charitable bodies have participated.
The latest test, conducted on Friday, was with senior officials from Madinah, the paper reported.
The report, however, did not mention a specific roll-out date.

High-speed intercity transport
The Haramain high-speed rail project, also known as the “Western railway” or “Makkah–Madinah high-speed railway”, is a 453-kilometre-long high-speed inter-city rail transport system in Saudi Arabia.
It links the cities of Madinah and Makkah via King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), as well as Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport (KAIA), using 449.2km of main line and a 3.75km branch connection to KAIA.
Madinah Governor Prince Faisal Bin Salman expressed his appreciation to King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz for his support of public transport in the Kingdom, and especially for the high-speed train.
The project forms part of the Kingdom’s efforts to serve pilgrims to the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the visitors to the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.
The Haramain service, initially scheduled to roll out in 2012, is one of the biggest public transport projects in the Middle East, involving the use of some 15,000 power pylons and boring through mountains.
Umrah visitors, who are expected to reach about 15 million by 2020, are eagerly waiting for the full operation of the train. The train service is expected to play a role in realising Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 by harnessing its energies to serve pilgrims and guests.

This article was first published in Gulf News

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Jeddah Tower: What does the world’s next tallest skyscraper look like now?

Time: January 17, 2018


These are the images that show what will soon be known as the world’s next tallest building rising from the desert. When the 3,280-feet-tall (1,000-meter-tall) Jeddah Tower, in Saudi Arabia, opens in 2020, it will knock Dubai’s iconic Burj Khalifa off its throne as the tallest skyscraper in the world by 236 feet (72 meters). Construction of the landmark is estimated to cost $1.4 billion.
When CNN visited the site at the end of 2017, the tower was 252 meters (826 feet) high and already had expansive views of the kingdom.

A tall order?

The tower will be the crown jewel of Jeddah Economic City, a commercial and residential project of 57 million square feet (5.3 million square meters), that will feature homes, hotels and offices, as well as tourist attractions.
Jeddah Tower, pictured during CNN’s visit. Credit: CNN
But the project hasn’t been smooth sailing.
There have been various delays since construction began in 2013. Since November 2017, two of the project’s most prominent backers — Saudi Arabia’s Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a prolificinvestor and businessman, and Bakr Bin Laden, chairman of Jeddah Tower’s construction company Bin Laden Group — have been caught up in the kingdom’s anti-corruption purge, which saw hundreds questioned on accusations of corruption.
Jeddah Economic Company, the developer behind the skyscraper, however, has confirmed to CNN that the project will be completed by 2020, as scheduled.
Al-Waleed’s company declined to provide comment to CNN, while Bin Laden Group couldn’t be reached.

A global landmark

While today the site is surrounded by desert, upon completion the tower will be the center of the Jeddah Economic City development.
“As of 2020, we’ll start seeing things: you’ll see the tower, you’ll see the shopping mall, you’ll see many other projects,” says Mounib Hammoud, CEO of Jeddah Economic Company.
Boasting a gross floor area of 2.6 million square feet (243,866 square meters) over 252 stories, the tower will also feature the world’s highest observation deck at 2,178 feet (664 meters) off the ground, with a 5,382 square feet (500 square meter) outdoor platform.

View from the tower, looking out to the surrounding desert.

View from the tower, looking out to the surrounding desert. Credit: CNN
Other facilities include a five-star Four Seasons Hotel and 97 affiliated serviced apartments, including seven duplexes. Offices will account for seven floors, where there will be four “residential tiers” that will include 325 apartments.
The elevators will reach a record height of 2,165 feet (660 meters), while the double-decker lifts that take visitors directly to the observation deck from Level 1 of the building can travel at 12.5 miles per hour. In other words, they can shuttle guests to the deck, accessed from the 157th and 158th floors, in 66.5 seconds.
We are creating an independent city … It’s changing the mindset of Jeddah.
Hisham Jomah, Jeddah Economic Company
“When you first arrive at the tower, you are already 20 meters above sea level,” explains Jomah. “Therefore, it’s like every floor is a different experience (in) that building.”
The developers believe Jeddah Tower will be a game-changer for the area, which has traditionally acted as a gateway to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
“Before (the tower) was here, this was not considered a place that people would live,” says Hisham Jomah, chief development officer of Jeddah Economic Company. “We are creating an independent city … so that you don’t have to leave here,” he adds. “It’s changing the mindset of Jeddah.”

“Building a tower of this kind, of this grandiosity, is really something I wouldn’t have thought I would do,” says Hammoud.
“Jeddah is going to be repositioned on the international scene of modern cities,” he adds. “You speak about downtown Dubai — and now we’re going to have downtown Jeddah.”

Rising power

Jeddah Tower’s construction fits into Saudi Vision 2030, a government plan that aims to diversify the economy in the kingdom and reduce its dependence on oil.
“Vision 2030 is the development strategy of the project … this is the instruction we have given to the architects and to the urban planners,” explains Hammoud.
Yet the ultimate goal is to raise the city’s status as a global power player.

The developers hope the skyscraper will put Jeddah on the map.

The developers hope the skyscraper will put Jeddah on the map. Credit: CNN
“The Egyptians, they built the pyramids. In medieval France, they built all these huge cathedrals and churches. And in modern times, they built New York, Chicago. So really, it’s a token of strength and ingenuity,” he says. “Like in every city: after money, after power, you want strength.
“After strength, you want to establish something, leave something for the world. And today, Jeddah is going to have a building which, many generations to come will talk about it.”

This article was first published in CNN

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Saudi Arabia’s new desert megacity

Time:20 March 2015

With a flourish of his hand, the uniformed security guard waves us down the private road that leads to the newest city in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The King Abdullah Economic City, (KAEC, pronounced “cake”) is one of four new cities upon which the late monarch pinned his hopes for the future of his realm once the oil runs out.

Peppered with cranes, the city – or building site to be more accurate – lies one-and-a-half hour’s drive north of Jeddah between the Red Sea and scrubby desert.

Its future depends on balancing the complex and evolving transport, health, education, housing and employment requirements of the city’s projected two million residents.

According to Fahd Al-Rasheed, the managing director of Emaar Economic City, the publicly traded Saudi company that runs the entire KAEC project, the new generation of Saudis expect a city that matches the modern lifestyle they have grown used to while studying abroad.

“We’re building with the 65% of the population who are under 30 in mind,” he explains. “And we have almost 200,000 Saudis studying abroad. Inevitably they are going to change things when they come back.”

These statistics are compounded by the fact that more women than men graduate from university. These changing demographics are bringing with them new social demands that will likely revolutionise how the country develops.


At 70 sq miles KAEC will eventually be a metropolis slightly larger than Washington DC and at a cost of $100bn (£67bn), mostly from private funding, the King Abdullah Economic City is second to none in the grandeur of its vision.

“We aim to create one of the world’s largest ports,” says Rayan Bukhari, a young manager at the King Abdullah port.

“We’re not competing with Jeddah’s Islamic port – but we are going to take business away from Jebel Ali in Dubai. That’s because of our quicker, more automated offloading and customs procedure.”

According to Mr Bukhari, King Abdullah was determined to involve the private sector in the economic development of the country; casting aside tribal and regional rivalries in the interests of creating a modern business economy.

“Freight arriving at the port will be taken directly to the capital via the new land bridge,” he explains, “At the moment lots of products destined for Riyadh are shipped to Dubai, but that will change. They’ll be shipped here as it is cheaper – and can be delivered more quickly within the Kingdom.”

View of the Haramain railway station being built
Image captionBritish architect Norman Foster has designed the Haramain railway station

Speed is integral to KAEC’s vision for future. With Mecca and Medina on the high speed train network that links KAEC with the two holy cities, well-heeled Umrah (pilgrimage to Mecca) pilgrims are expected to visit the city as they travel from the place where the Prophet was born to the place where he is buried.

“The Haramain station is due to open by the end of the year,” says Fahd Al-Rasheed, “That train service will alter a lot of things for us.”

The station is designed by British architect Norman Foster, famed for London’s “Gherkin” skyscraper and the Reichstag Dome in Berlin.

It is expected to reduce the journey time from Jeddah to 30 minutes and bring religious tourists to the city on extended pilgrim visas.

And as Jeddah becomes ever more clogged with cars, KAEC claim’s it will limit fuel emissions by providing electric cars for use within the city free of charge.

Repeated rethinks

It has, however, not been entirely plain sailing for the country’s newest city.

Even though KAEC is developed and managed by the private sector and is listed on the Saudi stock exchange (Tadawul), economic realities in the Gulf have hit home and necessitated a government loan amid the current fall in oil prices and the more widespread economic downturn.

The speed of social change in the kingdom is also making itself felt for what has become a fluid master plan.

“We’ve altered our plan four times already,” confirms Head of Strategic Planning Tareq Salaita, “We may well need to have another rethink.”

Creating a massive new city that is able to encourage enterprise in a practical way has up-ended the usual rigmarole of applying for permissions.

The government has set up an Economic Cities Authority overseeing all four megacities and dealing with every licence, construction permit and approval needed from different ministries. This time-saving move should help the hundred companies that are setting up in KAEC avoid costly delays.

So far only 15% of the city has been developed – industrial estates, residential districts and public facilities are currently under construction.

Ninety kilometres of roads are already in use but what about the thorny question of women driving? In 20 years when KAEC is due to be completed, will females be behind the wheel?

According to Dania Beidas, who lives and works in the city during the week, in two decades the question may well be irrelevant.

“I hope that we will be allowed to drive here eventually,” she says. “But with driverless cars in the pipeline, it may not matter any more.”

This article was first published in BBC

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