Saudi Arabia’s “The Line” Project Gets Scaled Back

Saudi Arabia’s “The Line” Project Gets Scaled Back

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Saudi Arabia is investing an unprecedented amount of money in tourism, and also in diversifying its economy away from oil. I’ve been watching this with great interest, as we’ve never seen a project to this scale before, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s all realistic. I’m also just generally interested in planned projects like this, as it’s amazing how often they fail.

Saudi Arabia’s single most ambitious project is The Line, and it looks like that’s now facing a significant setback.

Saudi Arabia’s The Line is the wildest thing I’ve ever seen

Saudi Arabia is working on developing all kinds of new regions, in order to create new tourism and lifestyle destinations. The biggest project in Saudi Arabia is in NEOM, which is intended to be a $1.5 trillion investment, and the most unreal-looking aspect of this is The Line.

According to the plans, The Line is intended to eventually house nine million people, who will live in interconnected societies run by artificial intelligence. This is supposed to be a 170 kilometer coastal strip that will be free of cars and streets, and will allegedly have zero carbon emissions.

The design of this is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Essentially there will be two skyscrapers that are parallel to one another, each the height of the Empire State Building and the length of the state of Delaware. People will somehow live inside that society. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say there’s no way that this is realistic, and that this must be out of a video game, or something.

This is only one aspect of the NEOM development, with other aspects of the project including everything from marina resorts to ski resorts. Again, all of this stuff just looks so futuristic.

In many ways, I think what happens with NEOM will very much reflect whether Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented investment works out or not. This seems totally outlandish, so if Saudi Arabia can pull this off, maybe the country’s goals aren’t outside the realm of possibility.

However, it seems like some cracks are starting to form with plans for The Line…

Goals for The Line are scaled back significantly

While it hasn’t been formally announced by Saudi Arabia, it’s becoming clear that goals for The Line are being scaled back significantly, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. This project is apparently already way over budget, and has dealt with several construction issues:

  • Now The Line is expected to only be 2.4 kilometers long by 2030, so that’s just 1.4% of the planned length
  • The initial plan was for The Line to have at least 1.5 million residents by 2030, while now the goal is for that number to be closer to 200,000, so that’s just 13% of the original goal

Saudi Arabia insists that the long term plans for The Line remain unchanged, even if it will be done a bit more slowly than initially planned. Keep in mind that a $1.5 trillion project is an absurd amount of money, even by Saudi Arabian standards. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is worth just under a trillion dollars, to just put that into perspective. So this project will cost more than 50% over the total value of the country’s PIF.

That projected cost is also best case scenario, and so far the project is already way over budget, with many suggesting this will now cost well over $2 trillion. There have reportedly been some significant construction issues, including:

  • A giant pile of excavated dirt was dumped on top of the next spot where digging was supposed to take place, wasting a significant amount of time and resources
  • The decision was made to move one end of The Line by a few kilometers, due to preferred terrain, which cause a delay of several months
Saudi Arabia is seeing all kinds of new tourism developments

If The Line ends up being way smaller than initially planned, then that makes the economics and sustainability of the project even more questionable. That’s because endless money is being poured into the region, from solar panels, to desalination plants, to a massive airport, to other infrastructure.

It’s one thing if you could essentially distribute those investments across 1.5 million residents by 2030, but now that number is down to closer to 200,000. That’s much tougher to stomach, since it means the project will be running at a loss for much longer.

So I’m very curious to see how this continues to evolve. Will The Line actually eventually look anything like the renderings, or will this project just be ditched at some point? Only time will tell, but it definitely has implications for Saudi Arabia’s larger tourism goals.

Every time I write about anything related to Saudi Arabia, people ask why I’m “promoting” the country. Let me emphasize that I’m not — being interested in something is not the same as endorsing something, or thinking it’s a great idea.

As I said, we’ve never seen a tourism investment to this scale before, and we’re seeing everything from the launch of Riyadh Air, to endless new hotel projects. I think it’s important to frame all that in the larger context of Saudi Arabia’s success with its promised initiatives.

Saudi Arabia plans to launch Riyadh Air in 2025

Bottom line

I can’t help but be fascinated by The Line, Saudi Arabia’s futuristic development that looks unlike anything the world has ever seen. I’ve been skeptical yet intrigued, so have been keeping an eye on the progress of the project. It looks like The Line is dealing with some delays and budget issues, which I can’t say surprises me.

I’m curious how big these issues end up being, and when the first person actually ends up living in The Line (if at all).

What do you make of The Line? Do you think anyone will ever live there?

Conversations (33)
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  1. AD Diamond

    I was out there last year and it's clear to me that they will have no trouble executing on everything they want to do, except, possibly The Line. The communities may not look as futuristic as the videos, but they can execute on them. None of those projects are technically challenging. Those projects - assuming the tourists and residents come - will support the infrastructure investment. So, The Line isn't necessary for that investment to...

    I was out there last year and it's clear to me that they will have no trouble executing on everything they want to do, except, possibly The Line. The communities may not look as futuristic as the videos, but they can execute on them. None of those projects are technically challenging. Those projects - assuming the tourists and residents come - will support the infrastructure investment. So, The Line isn't necessary for that investment to pay off.

    In addition, everyone I talked to there was quite clear there were unanswered technical questions about The Line. And the plan had always been to build it in modules. If i recall, each module was 500 meters, but my memory is fuzzy on that. When I was there they were driving piles and at the rate that was happening, it was going to take decades just to do that. As I understood it the goals for 2030 were about what is planned for 2030 now. I think they just clarified expectations. As I said, there are many unanswered technical questions for the project, but I want to go back and see it all in a few year.

  2. StevieMIA Guest

    Since the blog creator is gay himself, and lots of travelers are lgbt as well is only natural that they bring this up, you can't paint your country as the future of humankind and sell your nation as a new beacon of development when the reality is quite different, it is ironic they want to diversify their economy and bring in the million of tourists and travellers but they're far behind in human rights, just...

    Since the blog creator is gay himself, and lots of travelers are lgbt as well is only natural that they bring this up, you can't paint your country as the future of humankind and sell your nation as a new beacon of development when the reality is quite different, it is ironic they want to diversify their economy and bring in the million of tourists and travellers but they're far behind in human rights, just to showcase the true realities of Saudi Arabia, go check other comments, not only they have huge sanitation issues as many other arab countries do, but they also have more urgent matters they should be fosing on; equality for women, human rights etc, besides there's the big issue of their geography and topography, which conditions any possible development and growth. A huge cultural shift is needed to assure the millions of tourists they expect to receive in order to become an attractive destination, they need these tourists to grow their economy and make their future hub airports work, UAE and Qatar seem to be different in the sense that they don't impose severe rules on tourists, this relaxation of the cultural norm is needed because no tourist wants to feel threatened or coerced when travelling somewhere.

    Most western people wouldn't feel comfortable staying in a country with severe social codes and where discretion of all kinds is not only advised but enforced. Relaxation of the norms and attitudes will be needed even for the transit passengers, trust me nobody wants to transit somewhere that feels unsafe.

    And given that a high percentage of the population is lgbt or diverse is only natural they don't feel comfortable with the idea of transiting or staying in a country they don't perceive as welcoming or safe.

  3. Paulo Guest

    I’ve just returned from Riyadh. I was told that they are planning to double to population by expo 2030. Already 7 million people live there and when you consider their water needs it’s had to imaging any development in Saudi as being zero carbon.

  4. John Guest

    Is it possible to discuss a building project(!) in the east without having to talk about trans, gays and/or sexual preferences in the west?
    Apparently, no.

  5. simmonad Member

    As a 100km line is presumably identical to a 2km one - just longer - it surely makes sense to build the Line incrementally, learning as they go?

  6. Mike Guest

    The technology to make this work very much exists. It is cost prohibitive for mostly nations, but Saudi may be different.
    While I agree with most commentators that I would never want to live there, you must also give non-democracies some credit. A democratically elected leader spends 100% of their energy on the day-to-day running and the prospects of getting reelected. AN autocratic leader has the privilege to work on a leagcy for 30,...

    The technology to make this work very much exists. It is cost prohibitive for mostly nations, but Saudi may be different.
    While I agree with most commentators that I would never want to live there, you must also give non-democracies some credit. A democratically elected leader spends 100% of their energy on the day-to-day running and the prospects of getting reelected. AN autocratic leader has the privilege to work on a leagcy for 30, 40 or 50 years down the road, or a project that will be completed by the next generation. MBS is a smart educated man. He knows the Saudi oil will not sustain the kingdom forever, and is looking for alternatives. you must give him credit for that.
    My prediction remains that they will continue to push for this, while significantly scaling things back. Even so, when it opens (my guess would be 2040s) - it will be one of the most stunning projects built by humans ever.
    Not an endorsement of Saudi's policies toward LGBT, women, and others, but an interest in how innovation is becoming common in previously conservative regions .

    1. Juraj Member

      Technology to build it? Perhaps.
      Technology to make it actually work? Nah.
      We've been figuring out cities for several thousand years and this is just the dumbest design ever, making everyone commute in a linear space, unless everyone is kept to their very restrictive sector. And you best not end up on the bottom with no natural light. All of this in a country that has yet to figure out proper waste disposal...

      Technology to build it? Perhaps.
      Technology to make it actually work? Nah.
      We've been figuring out cities for several thousand years and this is just the dumbest design ever, making everyone commute in a linear space, unless everyone is kept to their very restrictive sector. And you best not end up on the bottom with no natural light. All of this in a country that has yet to figure out proper waste disposal for much of its population.
      Much like Egypt's new capital, it's a nonsensical megalomaniacal project to build a legacy with money that could've absolutely been spent better – a staple of non-democracies.

  7. StevieMIA Guest

    It's so funny to see this unfolding right in front of our eyes, many architects, experts and engineers and even environmentalists have totally dismantled this crazy idea, good to see they are taking that reality check, this will fail miserably. They should stick to resorts and tourists attractions, or why not invest all those billions in useful infractructure for their people, why not building schools, colleges, hospitals and the like. I don't doubt they will...

    It's so funny to see this unfolding right in front of our eyes, many architects, experts and engineers and even environmentalists have totally dismantled this crazy idea, good to see they are taking that reality check, this will fail miserably. They should stick to resorts and tourists attractions, or why not invest all those billions in useful infractructure for their people, why not building schools, colleges, hospitals and the like. I don't doubt they will be able to complete huge airports but what's the use?, you can't force this ecomomic change with pretencious mega projects, and you can't certanly drive cultural change with such a bizarre pseudo futuristic concept, nobody is here for your vertical mirror towers, it seems they didn't larn their lessons with the Jeddah Tower fiasco. I really hope they can sustain a rapid and organic shift for their population, I really do but all this nonsense is funny to see. I don't see this NEOM project working out, they should stick with building two functional and modern airports and call it a day. Saudi Arabia is not the UAE, or Qatar, it will take more than billions to become an attractive destination let alobe a leading economy.

    I think Saudis are up for a rough awakening, they must make hundreds of changes on their plans, Riyadh Air already launched and nobody seems interested, there's nothing premium or refreshing about their identity, Neom Bay airport not attractive enough to airlines right now, we'll see about that.

    It's good they're taking a new direction but 2030 won't be the year, we won't be in a rush to set foot in Saudi Arabia, not even in 2030, it will take more than three mega airports and a fake vertical city to drive the millions of passengers.

    1. Sel, D. Guest

      The Line Project is a good name for a night club in Miami.

  8. Anthony Guest

    Go see some of those ugly building monstrosities that Apple built and sold to Hyatt. And now Hyatt is building more of them. Dreams, Secrets, Vivids, etc...

    Lots of grey concrete everywhere. Like from a Sci-Fy movie.

    1. StevieMIA Guest

      The real issue is these type of monstrosities find a way of survinving, mostly in The West, any company can buy a building, change it and repack it new, in the desert not much. These travesty of a city will likely follow in the footsteps of those horrible chinese ghost cities and the like.

  9. Anthony Guest

    This is information. That's what Blogs are for.

    If Ben reports on a murder, it doesn't mean he endorses
    murder.

    Such a HUGE project in our world is of interest. Whether they succeed or not is another matter, and that is also of interest.

  10. BradStPete Diamond

    An incredible idea, ambitious and quite interesting. However I have to wonder who would want to live in an environment that is hostile to woman, LGBTQ, persons who may wish to enjoy a cocktail or wine... I mean the list goes on.
    No thank you. Best wishes.

    1. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      I mean, there's still plenty of people alive today who remember when *all* of those things applied to the many/most places in the Western world as well.

      Progress has to begin somewhere.

  11. 305 Guest

    The entire idea ignores the history of urban planning/architecture. Every concept like this that has been tried in the past has been an epic failure. This won’t be any different

  12. caelus678 Member

    A must watch video about Neom:

    https://youtu.be/Ak4on5uTaTg

    1. CPH-Flyer Gold

      Yes, that is rather interesting. While not exactly neutral in its reporting, it does hit some serious pain points.

    2. Luke Guest

      City is being built in a line to try to get away from itself!

    3. Jones Guest

      What's a clip from 'Father Ted' doing in a video satirising an all-powerful absolute monarchy that tolerates no dissent? Oh, wait ......

  13. Alec Member

    WSJ article also mentions how this money isn’t really even being invested back into local economy - it’s all going to foreign consultants and sourcing materials abroad

  14. Frog Guest

    Living in an “interconnected society run by artificial intelligence” is exactly what I look for when house hunting..,

  15. Ole Guest

    “being interested in something is not the same as endorsing something, or thinking it’s a great idea.”

    Agreed, but writing about something is promotion.

    1. Eskimo Guest

      Ole is a prick. A self centered person who suppress free speech. Delta is premium. Ole is still a prick.

      What am I promoting?

    2. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Ole -- Sure, mentioning anything is promoting it by some definition, I suppose. But what's the problem with that? There's nothing actionable any OMAAT readers can do here -- I don't think any homes or hotel rooms are bookable in The Line yet...

    3. Ole Guest

      No country is perfect. Each one has things hidden in their closet. But, ME and especially Saudi goes a step further. So, when intelligent and rational people like you starts giving them exposure, what do we do.

      This whole project and the pivot away from Oil is similar to how ME including Saudi have bought European Football Clubs for as the fans call sports washing.

  16. Jordan Guest

    Saudi Arabia is reallocating a large portion of its development budget in pursuit of hosting global events e.g. World Cup 2034, Expo 2030. They’re still more than willing to light money on fire, just creating different smoke is all. NEOM is still going ahead, but as with any fantasy mega project will be delayed and reimagined endlessly. Maybe a watered down version by 2050?

  17. Sisyphus Guest

    Was looking at the Four Seasons new openings page yesterday and was surprised by the number of FS projects projected to open there in the next few years. It’ll be interesting to see how many of those actually open up and continue to operate long term.

    1. Daniel Guest

      Saudi money has flowed into Four Seasons, with the Kingdom Holding Company acquiring a large stake.

    2. Pete Guest

      Bills Gates owns 71.25% of Four Seasons via Cascade Investments. The Kingdom Holding Company owns 23.75%, having sold half its interest to Cascade in 2021. The remaining 5% is held by Issy Sharp, the company founder.

    3. Juergen Guest

      I can’t help but I never believe that even 10 percent of what you hear will be ever built. Does anyone remember the Jeddah Tower project ? It was planned as the biggest tower of the world , well we know it never was finished and this will be the fate of so many projects in Saudi Arabia. I know that the guy behind the project is no longer in favor of MBS. The line...

      I can’t help but I never believe that even 10 percent of what you hear will be ever built. Does anyone remember the Jeddah Tower project ? It was planned as the biggest tower of the world , well we know it never was finished and this will be the fate of so many projects in Saudi Arabia. I know that the guy behind the project is no longer in favor of MBS. The line was in my eyes a dream of western architects who wanted to create an elysium for the ultra rich but I guess enough people already enriched themselves just on the idea. Will they build ever built it ? I have my doubts since no one needs such a place and how on earth can that be even sustainable ? Will they build Al Mukaab ? The technology behind such a project does not even exist these days. I guess it’s high noon for project managers , they must flock like Mc Kinsey consultants these days in Riyadh and sell their wet dreams.

    4. Eskimo Guest

      @Juergen

      If Dubai can make a "no one needs such a place and how on earth can that be even sustainable" desert work, Saudi can too.
      Timeframe wise, maybe 2050.

    5. iamhere Guest

      Yes and then it will become more like a St Regis or Ritz Carlton whereby it will not be as luxurious and the standards will differ from place to place.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Frog Guest

Living in an “interconnected society run by artificial intelligence” is exactly what I look for when house hunting..,

3
Ben Schlappig OMAAT

@ Ole -- Sure, mentioning anything is promoting it by some definition, I suppose. But what's the problem with that? There's nothing actionable any OMAAT readers can do here -- I don't think any homes or hotel rooms are bookable in The Line yet...

3
simmonad Member

As a 100km line is presumably identical to a 2km one - just longer - it surely makes sense to build the Line incrementally, learning as they go?

2
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