Saudi Arabia plans to seek bids for the construction of a 1,600-kilometre railroad linking the Red Sea with the Gulf as early as the end of this year, signalling the go ahead for a long-delayed project seen as vital to reducing the economy’s dependence on oil.
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.
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, Saudi Railway Co. Chief Executive Officer Bashar Al Malik said in an interview.
Saudi Arabia first awarded contracts for a privately funded coast-to-coast line in 2008 in an effort to accelerate the transit of goods around a country a fifth the size of the US, but put the project on hold after financial terms couldn’t be agreed upon. 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.