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Massive investments in railway infrastructure

Saudi Arabia: Thursday, June 02 - 2005 @ 09:59

The huge development is but one segment of a nationwide railway expansion programme that has been injected with growing pace in recent months. In another major development, the president of the Saudi Railways Organisation, Khalid Alyahya, says he hopes to be able to select a preferred bidder for final negotiations on a BOT project to build the Kingdom’s planned east-west Landbridge rail link by the middle of next year.

The Landbridge line will carry up to 40 double-stacked container trains a day travelling at 120 km/h, each transporting up to 400 twenty feet equivalent units (TEUs), as well as four to five passenger trains operating at 220 km/h.

The development will open up substantial transhipment possibilities for Jeddah and Dammam ports. At the moment 50% of Dammam’s container traffic, for example, is processed through other Gulf ports in particular Jebel Ali and Salalah.

The Saudi Landbridge railway expansion will transform the Kingdom’s existing network into one the world’s most important strategic freight links connecting the port cities of Jeddah, Dammam and Jubail via Riyadh’s inland dry port.

Delivery time for containers tracked between Dammam and Jeddah will be less than 48 hours compared to up to eight days journey by sea around Ras al Mandab from the Red Sea to Arabian Gulf.

Prequalification documents are in the course of being sent out for Saudi Arabia’s epoch-making railway development programme. Invitations to tender are due to be issued in the third quarter of 2005 with bids returned in the first quarter of next year. The aim is to award the concession in the third quarter of 2006

The successful bidder will be required to design, finance, build and operate the line for a fixed length of time.

Minister of Transport Dr Jobarah Al-Suraisy emphasised that ‘the government is strongly committed to this project’ during a seminar on the Landbridge link held in London at the end of January.

The meeting, organised by the Saudi Railways Organisation and the project’s financial advisors UBS Investment Bank and National Commercial Bank, was designed to present preliminary guidelines for the qualification process and discuss progress in preparing the build-operate-transfer concession.

Dr Al-Joraisy says that the Landbridge will be one of the largest BOT projects ever undertaken in the Middle East and describes it as a key initiative in the railway expansion programme approved by the Kingdom’s Supreme Economic Council.

The project will involve construction and operation of 945 kilometres of new standard-gauge track from Riyadh to Jeddah as well as a new 115-kilometre spur from Dammam port to the industrial city of Jubail.

Whoever wins the BOT contract will also take on SRO’s existing assets, including the Kingdom’s two existing rail lines that link Dammam with Riyadh.

The present railway is used both for passenger traffic and containers which are allowed to be taken straight to the capital for customs clearance. Whoever takes on the BOT will also assume control of SRO which the government is seeking to privatise at the same time.

Legal advice is being given to SRO by the London office of international law firm Linklaters together with the Saudi firm of Abdulaziz Al-Fahd while France’s state railway group SNCF is technical consultant.

The optimum route for the new line has already been mapped out while the US Parsons Brinckerhoff is further defining the route alignment within the chosen corridor. This is crucial for determining the degree and complexity of engineering work required and overall development costs.

The route is expected to need 28 kilometres of tunnels and 100 bridges. The initial single track will have passing loops built every 50 kilometres though construction is to be carried out in a way which will allow double tracking over the entire distance at some future stage.

Passenger services will also feature in the Landbridge link but these will transferred to a separate franchise. This will not be selected until after completion of the new track though existing Riyadh-Dammam passenger services are expected to continue in the meantime.

Additional focus on railway development is also being seen in the promotion of a western rail network featuring advanced transit concepts to provide passenger services between Jeddah, Makkah, Medina and Yanbu.

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Thursday, June 2- 2005 @ 9:59 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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