The Saudi Land Bridge Project: On track for construction
It is an exciting time for transport in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Land Bridge Project has revealed plans to construct a vast, high-speed rail network.
The Saudi Land Bridge Project is a planned railway network that will connect the port cities of Jeddah, Dammam and Jubail to Riyadh. It will have the capability to move large quantities of cargo over long distances at competitive rates. In addition, it will offer safe and comfortable passenger transport.
The ambitious project is a part of an expansion programme for the Saudi Railways Organization. It is one of the biggest projects in the region with an estimated investment of $7bn. 950km of new line will be constructed between Riyadh and Jeddah, and a further 115km will be built between Dammam and Jubail. There is also a planned upgrade to the existing link between Riyadh and Dammam.
The Saudi Railways Organization started planning railway lines in the mid 1940’s, when transport was needed to dispatch goods from a port on the Gulf coast to The Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco). Now, more high-speed lines are required because trade and consumption is on the rise.
The project originally sought a public-private partnership. In July 2008, the Saudi government licensed the establishment of Saudi Landbridge Company in order to accelerate the completion of the railway project.
On 21 April 2008, the Tarabot consortium, which consists of seven Saudi companies and Asciano of Australia, was selected as the preferred bidder for the 50-year Build Operate and Transfer scheme for the Landbridge project. Financial terms could not be agreed, so plans were delayed.
In October 2011, the government agreed that construction would go ahead as a state-funded project. Four consortia bid for the project, including Agility PWC Logistics Consortium, Mada Consortium, Saudi Binladin Consortium and Al-Muhaidib/ACWA (Tarabot) Consortium. They remain in bidding.
In January 2013, US contractor, Fluor Corporation, won a US$72 million, seven-year project management contract. Italferr was selected for designing purposes in July 2013. The company was due to complete their design in the second quarter of 2014.
Today, the Saudi Land Bridge Project is planning high-speed tracks that will be compliant with the high-speed passenger trains and freight trains. The project has already enlisted the help of 5,000 employees.
The Land Bridge will interlope with the North-South railway link. The project hopes to give trains the capacity to carry up to 400 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs). The axle load is expected to be 25t and the standard gauge will be of 1.435m. Minimum curve radius will be 3,500m in plain areas and maximum cant will be 150mm.
To enhance the capabilities of the new rail links, the project will adopt cutting-edge technology. Smooth high-speed tracks will adequately provide for the high-speed passenger trains and freight trains. Signalling technology will be compatible with European Raft Traffic Management System (ERTMS) level 2 for maximum efficiency, and the project plans to have centralised traffic control (CTC) in the network.
The rolling stock will be diesel powered, which is the lower maintenance alternative to petrol. It will be a single track with long sidings. However, the infrastructure, including bridges, tunnels, embankments and drainage systems will be dimensioned for a double track, enabling the addition of double track depending on traffic growth.
The design speed of passenger trains is expected to be 250km/hr and 140km/hr for freight trains. The operating speed of passenger trains will be up to 220km/hr and up to 120km/hr for freight trains. This means that freight can travel from Jeddah to Dammam in just eighteen hours, which cuts five days off the current sea journey. The Land Bridge is expected to carry 35-40 freight trains and five to six passenger trains per day.
The CEO of Saudi Railway Company, Dr Rumaih Mohammed Al Rumaih, said:
“The idea of connecting cities to industrial centres and ports has always existed, but such projects had required the financing that today the country is more able to provide. With rail transport, one needs to distinguish between inter-city connections and inner-city public transport systems; in Saudi Arabia, there is a boom in both. We are connecting cities, ports, and industrial zones”
“The goal is to transport goods arriving from Europe, meaning that they can then be shipped to the East and vice versa. Currently, for goods coming from China, for example, instead of going around the peninsula, then through the Suez Canal, they can use this line. This saves a huge amount of time and, of course, time is money.”
Exportation and importation is not the only concern for goods in Saudi Arabia. The CEO explains:
“Saudi Arabia is a huge user of fuel, consuming around one-quarter of what it produces. At this rate, by 2030, we will be consuming our entire production. This needs to change, and we are a part of the change. We need to make fuller use of public transport…When it comes to transporting, for example, petrochemical products, the railway will add competition and bring safety to the roads as well as having a huge positive impact on the environment. To give you an example, we have transported 4 million tons of phosphate to date, consuming only around 30% of the fuel that would have been consumed had the same amount been transported by truck.”
“In terms of customers, we are building the pipeline and working with the major players, including a company called SADARA, a joint venture between Aramco and Dow Chemical, and Saudi Aramco, SABIC, as well as Ma’aden. Once we start to develop the network further we will approach other major players to improve the network utilization. The government is working on incentives to encourage people to use rail instead of trucks.”
He also said:
“Logistics, and transportation in particular, have the power to make or break businesses… The impact on the country is not necessarily financial, but nonetheless has an indirect economic dimension that prompted the laying of these rail networks.”
Dr. Al Rumaih reiterated this. He said:
“The train will help grow the economy of Saudi Arabia. From minerals to olives. Although when you come here most you see is desert, there is a huge agricultural area in the North of the country that will also take advantage of the railway”
Improving the movement of cargo will also mean improving the movement of travellers. This is because the project will be investing in passenger trains as well as investing in freight trains. The construction of the Jeddah-Riyadh rail link means that passenger transport will last 6 hours: a marked improvement on the current 12-hour bus route. For freight trains the maximum travel time will be 12 hours.
For the Riyadh-Dammam rail link, time taken will be 2 hours and 45 mins instead of the present 4 hours taken by train. For freight trains, travel time will be 6 hours. The Dammam-Jubail link will take 1 hour for passenger trains and 3 hours for freight trains.
The Saudi Land Bridge project will create the first rail link between the Red Sea and the Gulf. The transferral of goods will be more efficient, economical, cost effective and modern. Travellers will also see the benefits, as they move from town to town with great ease. It is the beginning of a railway revolution.