Saudi Arabia will be seeking bidders for the construction of a 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) railroad linking the Red Sea with the Arabian Gulf as early as the end of this year, according to Saudi Railway CEO Bashar Al Malik.
Agence France-Presse reports that Al Malik said contract tenders will be issued at the end of 2017 or early in 2018 following an encouraging response to an invitation for expressions of interest.
The so-called Land Bridge line will shave around three days off the current five-day journey time for shipping seaborne freight around the Saudi coast, while improving links to Riyadh, and Jeddah, the nation’s two biggest cities.
This will be the second time Saudi Arabia has attempted to get the project off the ground. Contracts for a privately funded coast-to-coast line were awarded in 2008, but the project was put on hold when the financial crash hit.
It’s now “moving ahead to implement the project” after an encouraging response from the private sector, Al Malik said.
The cost of the Land Bridge 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, according to Al Malik, who has been CEO of Saudi Railway since March.
The Saudi Arabian government this year significantly boosted its infrastructure budget, increasing it from US $10-billion to US $14-billion. The increased budget is part of a national economic plan to diversify the economy away from its dependence on oil.
Separately, Saudi Railway is targeting increased freight shipments on the country’s Northern Line, including minerals transported for Saudi Arabian Mining, also known as Maaden.
Phosphate volumes should rise to 5 million tons this year from 4.4 million in 2016, while bauxite carriage may improve to 4 million tons from 3.3 million, Al Malik said.
The railway company is evaluating its ability to boost capacity as Maaden and its partners Mosaic and Saudi Basic Industries expand production at Waad al-Shamal in the far north of the country, he said.
Saudi Railway is also looking at expanding rail links to better serve energy giant Saudi Arabian Oil Co., or Aramco. which has bulk plants in Tabuk, Turaif and the Al Jouf region close to the Jordanian border for the distribution of gasoline, diesel fuel and other liquid products.
Agricultural production has been identified as another source of freight volume, in the Busaita area of Al Jouf which hasn’t yet utilized rail infrastructure, Al Malik said.
The zone has some of Saudi Arabia’s largest farms, including Al Jouf Agricultural Development’s 60,000 hectares of wheat, barley, maize and other crops.