RIYADH: MOHAMMED RASOOLDEEN
Published — Sunday 5 May 2013
Last update 5 May 2013 2:31 am
The Kingdom has embarked on a massive expansion plan to provide rail links from north to south and east to west covering all strategic commercial, industrial and social points.
The idea of constructing a railway line in Saudi Arabia was first introduced in the mid 1940s, when need became apparent for a port on the Gulf coast to handle materials dispatched to The Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco). Such goods had to be conveyed inland from the port to the company’s warehouses in Dhahran.
The idea provided by Aramco for establishing a railway from Dammam to Riyadh included the construction of a large commercial port able to receive the ships carrying the needs and equipment of the oil industry as well as the immense benefits of this port to the national economy.
The idea of constructing such a railway line was presented to King Abdul Aziz Al Saud who approved the project and instructed the line to be extended to Riyadh. Construction work commenced in September 1947 and on the Oct. 20, 1951, the line was officially inaugurated by King Abdul Aziz.
In the beginning, the railway line was run by Aramco, but it was subsequently entrusted to the Ministry of Finance, at which time it was known as the Railway Department.
On May 13, 1966, a Royal decree was issued establishing the Saudi Railways Organization (SRO) as a public corporation having full legal status. A board of directors was appointed to lead the organization on commercial principles.
“Rail transport is a vital support to growth and development in any country,” said Abdulaziz Al-Hokail, president of the Saudi Railways organization (SRO).
The Saudi government, realizing the value of rail transport adds to national development, had launched several initiatives to bring this vital service at par with the developmental needs of the country. 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.
The development initiatives also include moving toward privatizing SRO and opening the door for national and foreign investments to bolster its ability to support national development.
The official inauguration of Riyadh Dry Port took place on May 24, 1981. Statistics show that the number of containers handled at Riyadh Dry Port, since its inception, had increased dramatically. For example, in 1981-82, the number of standard containers (TEU’s) handled was 21,000. Twenty years later, in 2008 the number reached more than 398,000.
SRO operates a network of railways with a total length of approximately 1,380 kilometers, extending from King Abdul Aziz Port in Dammam and the City of Dammam itself to Riyadh, passing by Abqaiq, Hofuf, Haradh, Al-Tawdhihiyah and Al-Kharj.
Railroads operated by SRO include the Passenger Line, which is a 449-kilometer line that connects Riyadh to Dammam through Al-Ahsa and Abqaiq; the Cargo Line, a 556-kilometer line starting at King Abdul Aziz Port in Dammam and ending in Riyadh, passing by Al-Ahsa, Abqaiq, Al-Kharj, Haradh and Al-Tawdhihiyah; and the Branch Lines witha total length of 373 kilometers that connect some industrial and agricultural production sites and some military sites with export ports and some residential areas.
The Haramain high-speed rail project, announced by the Saudi Railway Organization, involves a 450-kilometer rail link between Makkah and Madinah. It will also pass through Jeddah and Rabigh.
Other components of the project include high-speed trains fitted with the latest equipment and five ultra-modern passenger stations — one in Makkah, two in Jeddah, one at King Abdul Aziz International Airport and one in Madinah.
About 27 percent of the Haramain rail stations in Jeddah and 13 percent in Makkah have been completed. The project will be completed on time, according to Muhammad Al-Suwaiket, assistant deputy minister of transport.
He said that the second phase of the train project will begin after construction of stations is completed, he said.
Building four stations in Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic City in Rabigh is the second and last part of the project’s first phase. The project’s second and last phase will involve the installation of tracks, signal and communication systems and the railway electrification system and 35 passenger vehicles.
The second stage will also see the establishment of six power stations to meet the project’s power requirements. The project is expected to operate by the end of 2014.
Al-Suwaiket said the Haramain high-speed rail project is one of the main parts of the Kingdom’s rail expansion project.
Transport Minister Jabara Al-Seraisry said: “The land bridge along with the North-South Railway and the Haramain Railway will have a big impact on the social and economic development of the country.”
The project will allow freight of cargo imported from East Asian countries via King Abdul Aziz Port in Dammam, and from Europe and North America via Jeddah Islamic Port. This would result in more transit cargo and savings in regional freight economy.
The contract is part of the plan ordered by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to complete the railway infrastructure of the Kingdom and in line with a decision of the Council of Ministers to construct a railway line connecting the Kingdom’s west coast with its east coast.
With the construction of the Jeddah-Riyadh rail link, the time taken for passenger transport will be six hours instead of the current 10 to 12 hours by bus. For freight, trains the maximum travel time will be 12 hours. The design speed of passenger trains is expected to be 250 kilometers per hour and 140 km/h for freight trains, making the trip between Dammam and Jeddah around 12 hours for cargo. Sea-borne freight can take up to nine days to travel between the two destinations.
PIF will fund the massive project and a supporting team drawn from the ministries of Transport, Finance and Saudi Railways Company (SAR) was formed to supervise the project.
SAR Board Chairman Mansour Al-Maiman said the line would start from Jeddah Islamic Port to Riyadh to be connected with the existing 450 km line between Riyadh and Dammam, with a second 115-km new line planned to connect Dammam with Jubail on the Arabian Gulf.
The 958-km dual track railway passing through different geographical areas will necessitate construction of a series of tunnels and bridges.
The SAR will closely work with Fluor for scheduling all construction work based on the highest quality and standards, he said.
The SAR is fully owned by the PIF and is currently implementing the North-South Railway (NSR) project. It is the world’s largest railway construction and the longest route to adopt the European Train Control System (ETCS) to date. It is a 2,400-km passenger and freight rail line originating in the capital city Riyadh, in the northwest of the country, to Al-Hudaitha, near the border with Jordan.
According to Al-Maiman, the north-south railway project will roughly cost SR20 billion and will depend mainly on goods transportation as a major source of its revenue rather than passengers.
Al-Maiman made this announcement after signing a contract with Spain’s CAF Company valued at more than SR 553 million. CAF will manufacture five passenger train sets for SAR and deliver them within two years. He said the government will finance the project either through issuance of sukuks, direct government funding from state budget or PIF.
The major revenues of the project will come from cargo where some agreements have been signed with certain companies such as Aramco and agricultural companies for transportation of their products.
The signing of the passenger train sets followed signing of similar contracts for the construction of six passenger stations in Riyadh, Majmaa, Qasim, Hail, Jouf, and Quriyyat, to be completed and operational by 2014. The five-passenger train sets will form the first group of SAR passenger trains that will be increased in line with increased operation levels for customers in the future.
To contribute socially, economically, industrially, agriculturally, and commercially to the growth and development of the cities that the railway lines pass by, SAR will provide general freight transportation services by rail. SAR rail network will support multiple industries in the North Province of the kingdom.
General freight train will consist of two-locomotives with a horsepower of (3,400-3,600) and 90 wagons. SAR provides nine Intermodal Yards (Shipping Yards) in Riyadh, Sudair, Qassim, Hail, Ras Al-Khair, Jubail, Al-Jawf, Al-Basaita, and Al-Haditha
On SAR’s Railway network, there will be several locations that provide support and services. There will be six passenger stations, which will be in Riyadh at King Khaled International Airport, Majma’a, Qassim, Hail at Prince Abdulaziz Bin Mussa’ad Economic City, Al-Jawf, and Al-Qurayyat. Additionally, there will be nine Intermodal Yards (Shipping Yards) in Al-Haditha, Al-Jawf, the agricultural city of Al-Besaitaa, Hail at Prince Abdulaziz Bin Mussa’ad Economic City, Qassim, Sudair, Riyadh, Ras Al-Khair, and Jubail. There will be 17 maintenance buildings for the maintenance staff across the railway network.
Phosphate Transportation service was started in May 2011 from Al-Jalamid Mine located in the Northeast of the Kingdom to the processing plant for Ma’aden Company located at Ras Al-Khair on the Arabian Gulf. The Phosphate trains transport 5 million tons of phosphate annually.
An American company called Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) manufactures the locomotives. The Phosphate wagons were manufactured by a Chinese company called CSR.
Bauxite Transportation service will start in 2014. Bauxite, which is used to produce aluminum, will be transported from Al-Baitha Mine in Qassim province to the processing plan at Ras Al-Khair. The Bauxite trains will transport more than 3 million tons annually. According to the SAR project timeline, the passenger train service will start in 2014. SAR would provide six passenger stations in Riyadh, Majma’a, Qassim, Hail, Al-Jawf and Al-Qurayyat.