A new regulatory authority is to have overall control of the planned system with the current state-owned Saudi Railways Organisation wound up.
The authority will be answerable to the Finance Ministry and manage future contract awards for national railway development.
The regulator will assume responsibility for projects under way, or planned, including the North-South minerals railway, the East-West track linking Jeddah and Dammam ports, and the Haramain project involving a high-speed rail link between Makkah and Medina as well as the planned monorail to connect Makkah to other holy sites.
A contract is expected to be awarded for work on the first phase of the latter project soon after this year’s Haj pilgrimage, according to Habib Zain Al-Abidine, deputy minister for municipal and rural affairs. The project comprises an elevated 22-kilometre light railway system linking Makkah with Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat.
The $4bn development is designed to ease congestion for the 3 million pilgrimage visitors and reduce the number of buses currently plying between the sites.
The monorail is expected to be developed in parallel with the planned $6bn Hamarain high-speed rail link between Makkah and Medina connecting with new lines from Jeddah to both cities. First tenders for the Hamarain project are expected to be issued within the next three months.
These will cover civil works on the 450km route, building of railway stations and communications, signalling, track and rolling stock as well as operations and maintenance.
In another major development, The Ministry of Finance’s Public Investment Fund says it has received interest from 18 international groups for the 480km passenger line between Al-Zabirah junction and Riyadh’s King Khaled International Airport and hopes to make a decision by the end of the year.
An award had been thought to have gone to Russian Railways, but the $800m contract was re-tendered by the Finance Ministry in August.
This delay is not expected to affect work on the main north-south railway designed to carry phosphate and bauxite from mines in the north to Ras Az Zour on the coast.
A 576km section between Al-Zabirah and Ras Az Zour is already being developed by Saudi Binladen Group. A further 440km section is being built from Al-Zabirah to the Al-Nafud desert by the Saudi Al-Suwaiket Group with China railways while Japan’s Mitsui and Australia’s Barclay-Mowlem is developing a 782km section from Al-Nafud to mines at Al-Jalamid and Qurayyat.
Meanwhile, work continues on acquiring land for the east-west ‘Landbridge’ track planned to connect Jeddah and Dammam. According to SRO president Abdulaziz al-Hokail agreement for most of the land required has been obtained. The successful consortium is expected to be confirmed within months.
The government is already considering additional spur lines from the Landbridge to connect Jeddah with Abha as well as links to Jubail and to the new King Abdullah Economic City.
Tuesday, October 14- 2008 @ 12:25 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.