Saudi railway projects consolidated to drive network plans

The decision to appoint transport minister Suleiman Al Hamdan as the head of Saudi Arabian Railways (SAR), and for the company to take charge of the country’s rail infrastructure, have been welcomed as measures that could inject fresh impetus into long-distance rail plans.

The official Saudi Press Agency announced Mr Al Hamdan’s appointment on Tuesday, and said that SAR “shall be the owner of the infrastructure” of all projects planned to link Saudi Arabia’s main cities.

Currently, SAR coexists alongside the Saudi Railways Organisation – the former is responsible for the north-south line from the Jordanian border to Riyadh, and the latter for running passenger and cargo lines between Riyadh and Damman in the Eastern Province.

Amer Khan, the chief executive of Dubai-based Precipio Consulting, said the consolidation was “a recognition that there is no point in running two agencies”.

“It seems natural to appoint one agency and give it an overseeing role for all of the kingdom’s long-term programmes.”

The kingdom has a development plan worth US$97 billion for the introduction of a cross-country rail network capable of carrying passengers and freight by 2040. Projects include the $7bn Saudi landbridge scheme linking Jeddah and Riyadh and the delayed $10bn Haramain high-speed rail line linking Mecca and Medina via Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic City.

David Clifton, a regional development director at Faithful + Gould, said the kingdom would do best to focus on developing the network for freight purposes in the first instance. “Freight stands a better chance of making money. On the passenger side of things, unless the price points were very high, which would discourage passenger transport, it’s not going to generate a massive amount of profitability.”

He said the distances between the kingdom’s cities, and the potential for upstream and downstream customers such as Saudi Aramco and Sabic to transport large volumes of goods not only makes freight more viable, it would also relieve pressure on its road network.

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