Saudi Arabia reopens Land Bridge project
Saudi Arabia has announced the release of different tenders for its Land Bridge project, the 1,600-kilometer railway connecting the Red Sea with the Persian Gulf. The tenders will be published by the end of this year, or start of next year. The project was stalled for many years due to uncertainty over funding, but will be restarted due to an encouraging response from the private sector.
The Land Bridge line is an important railway project in the framework of the Saudi ambition to reduce dependency on oil revenues. After completion, sea-borne freight can be carried from coast to coast in two days, rather than the five days it currently takes on rail.
Positive market response
The decision to restart the project came as the market responded positively to an invitation for expressions of interest, Saudi Railways Company (SAR) CEO Bashar Al Malik said to Bloomberg. The cost of the line will depend on the exact route chosen and the location of the Red Sea terminus, with bidding for contracts likely to include local and international engineering companies and financial institutions, he explained.
SAR launched two new rail freight services earlier this year. In May, the railway company started transporting molten sulphur from the eastern city of Waset to Wa’ad Al-Shamal in the north, after it had connected this station to its network. A month later, it started transporting commercial phosphoric acid from Wa’ad Al-Shamal to Ma’aden’s refinery in Ras Al Khair. Ma’aden is an important partner of SAR.
Boost in rail freight
The country witnessed a boost in the transport of minerals via rail. Especially traffic of phosphate and bauxite mineral proved to be successful. 4.06 million tonnes were moved across the northern half of the peninsula in the first half of this year. This is a 27 per cent increase compared to the 3.21 million tonnes in the first six months of 2016.
Saudi Arabia allocated 52 billion Riyals (11.6 billion Euros) to infrastructure and transportation this year, up from 38 billion Riyals (8.5 billion Euros) in 2016. The national railway company was founded in 2006 with the vital task of implementing a railway project linking the north of the country with both its eastern and central regions. The first 1,392 kilometer of the corridor opened in 2011, resulting in a final railway of 2,750 kilometer.