Kingdom bracing for world-class rail facilities

05 May 2013
With the plan to offer world-class facilities for passengers and cargo movement, Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in its railway infrastructure with total investments estimated to exceed SR 365 billion by the year 2040.

In the coming years, the Saudi government has planned to launch a number of initiatives in railway sector as it intends to connect almost every important region in the Kingdom as well as major cities of the member states of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

A railway network across the region is the priority of the Saudi government. In fact, the present value of the railway projects executed is estimated at SR 50 billion.

"Rail transport is a vital support to growth and development in any country ... therefore, the Saudi Railway Organization (SRO) is working very hard to provide the best services possible within the current operational structure," said Mohammed Bin Khalid M. Al-Shwaiket, SRO general president.

He said that the Saudi government, realizing the value rail transport adds to national development, had launched a number of initiatives to bring this vital service up to the expectations.

"These initiatives include major expansion projects to connect the Western regions of the Kingdom with the Eastern region, the Northern with the Central and to link the Holy Places as well as the Kingdom with the GCC countries," said Al-Shwaiket, in a report published on SRO website.

Referring to the developmental initiatives, the SRO chief said that the initiatives also include moving toward privatizing SRO and opening the door for national and foreign investments.

"We at SRO take these initiatives very seriously and are working diligently to turn the wise strategic vision of our government into reality, because we understand and can actually see the abundant benefits our nation will reap from it," said the SRO chief.

He said that the SRO, which supervises the railway system and which is also responsible to improve operational standards and quality of materials and equipments, has been encouraging privatization in different railway projects. One of the major projects is the North-South railway, which is considered the largest freight rail project, 2,750-km long, and valued at an estimated SR 20 billion. The project is of strategic importance in terms of freight exports to the Gulf.

"The Landbridge project is another important freight line valued at SR 26.6 billion," said an SRO report. The line links the port cities of Jeddah, Dammam and Jubail, passing through Riyadh. The Haramain high-speed rail project, valued at SR 51.5 billion and owned by SRO, has been built to transport pilgrims. On the other hand, the Riyadh Light Rail, owned by Arriyadh Development Authority and valued at SR 9.3 billion, is expected to be completed by 2018. The Jeddah Metro is another planned project valued at SR35 billion.

"But all these projects face challenges in terms of qualified contractors and lack of adequate rail financing," said an SRO report. Sand is another issue, as the arid landscape makes tracks susceptible to becoming buried. This increases the chances of accidents. However, SRO ensures safety with the help of modern technologies like integrated signals and communication systems.

Several projects worth SR 93 billion will be awarded in 2013 and 2014. The number of railway passengers is expected to reach 3.37 million passengers by 2014. In terms of freight, about 15 million tons of goods and materials is expected to be transported through the railways by 2014. Hence, these projects are important.

The country today can boast of about 28 million population with a consistent growth in population predicted for several years in future.

Spelling out the details of the railway expansion projects, the report said the railway transportation is known to have several advantages over other means of transportation. Such advantages include the ability to move large volumes of materials according to a regular schedule and over long distances, comparatively low cost, safety, energy efficiency and low impact on environment. Major international organizations were put to the task performing a number of studies on the subject.

The most prominent among these was the study carried out by the World Bank regarding the financial feasibility of expanding the railways network to connect Hazm Al-Jalamid, Al-Zubayrah and Jeddah Islamic Port with Riyadh and to connect Dammam with Jubail Industrial City, leading to a network that connects the northern, eastern and western part of the Kingdom with its central region. The World Bank study was very supportive of these proposals and was endorsed by the related higher authorities in the Kingdom.

This led to the launch of a Saudi Railway Master Plan. In 2010, the SRO signed a contract for six months with the German International Cooperation (GIZ) to conduct the Saudi Railway Master Plan for the period 2010-2040. The main objective of the Saudi Railway Master Plan 2010-2040 (SRMP) is to have a conceptual framework in place for the long-term development of a future passenger and freight transport network for the Kingdom.

The Master Plan can be understood as a comprehensive document transforming all railway related requirements, policies and actions into a practical implementation program. In general the development strategy of the national railway network, both for freight and passenger transport is directly linked to trade and business relations within the Middle Eastern region as well as wider global integration.

The total investment for the development of the railway network by 2040 is estimated at SR 365 billion. A total of six proposed 5-year period implementation programs until 2040 have been made. In fact, the Saudi Railway Master Plan 2010 - 2040 represents the basis for a long-term sustainable development and forms a step-by-step extension plan of the Saudi Arabian railway network. It is important to mention here that the Saudi Landbridge will transform the existing rail network in the Kingdom into a world-class freight and passenger rail link across the country.

It will have the capability to move large quantities of cargo over long distances at competitive rates and will offer safe and comfortable overland passenger transport. The railway will connect the port cities of Jeddah, Dammam and Jubail and will pass through the capital city Riyadh and serve its dry port. The project will involve construction of a 950 km new line between Riyadh and Jeddah and construction of a 115 km new line between Dammam and Jubail.

The project is considered one of the largest projects to be implemented as BOT Concessions (build, operate and transfer) basis and will have a significant impact on the routes of transport in the region due to the characteristic strategic and geographical location of the Kingdom. It also represents a unique opportunity for companies that have train techniques, the contractors of civil and mechanical works, and investors to contribute in the execution of the project that will have a great impact on the movement of transport, economic and social development.

On regional front in the GCC, several specialized international companies with long standing experience in the railway field have been assigned to conduct numerous studies on the project. A financial and technical committee was formed to complete the detailed studies of the project and offered it for implementation by the GCC countries. The studies started with drawing a road map for the project and determine the steps and the proposed schedule for each phase of the project.

It is proposed that the route of the GCC train project will start from Kuwait via Dammam in the Kingdom to Bahrain through the proposed causeway to be built parallel to the King Fahd Causeway. It will also link Dammam with Qatar through Salwa. The GCC train would also link Qatar with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and end up in Oman across Sohar to Muscat. The total project length is approximately 2116 km, and the length of the track inside the Kingdom will exceed 663 km.

A royal decree was issued on assigning the Ministry of Transport to prepare detailed execution studies of the project. A technical team affiliated to the Ministry of Transport has been formed for the development of further detailed studies and prepare engineering designs for the portion located in the Kingdom. The technical team has already started the consultations for the development of primary bases for the work methodology and the steps required to be completed in this area.

As for the implementation of the GCC rail project, the project is expected to be completed in 2017. There is also an intention to expand the project to other Arab countries, as we know, the Kingdom is a member of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and has signed the international railways agreement of the East Arabian countries to be linked with the other Arab countries. There is also an Arab consensus to complete the railway link projects as well as land and sea link so that it leads to economic interdependence and integration between the Arab countries.

© Arab News 2013


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