Interview: Rumaih Al Rumaih
How can the country’s intermodal transport options be leveraged to boost trade?
RUMAIH AL RUMAIH: Saudi Arabia is a cornerstone and a bridge connecting three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. One of the main objectives of Vision 2030 is for Saudi Arabia to become a global logistics hub. The country can leverage its geographical location and benefit from both the Red Sea and the Gulf. On the logistic performance index, Saudi Arabia is currently ranked 55th out of 160 countries, and the target is to be number one in the region. Given Saudi Arabia’s massive landmass, the challenge is to efficiently connect all possible means of transportation, both passenger and freight, to the benefit of end-users. The east, north and central regions are already well connected; what remains to be done to join all transport solutions together is connecting the west, including port cities such as Jeddah and Yanbu.
To this end, the land bridge project is due to connect Jeddah to Riyadh through a 1000-km railroad. One of the main objectives for this project is to assess how it will be built and operated. Saudi Arabia is keen to involve the private sector in infrastructure projects – not primarily for financing, but for efficiency purposes. For instance, the build-operate-transfer scheme in the context of privatisation and public-private partnerships lends itself particularly well to Saudi projects.
How attractive is Saudi Arabia’s maritime infrastructure, including for transit?
AL RUMAIH: The main global shipping lines have commitments with various ports around the world. In Saudi Arabia for instance, King Abdullah Port managed to bring Maersk Line to increase and facilitate trans-shipment activities. As a large share of the world’s traffic goes through the Red Sea, Saudi Ports in the west of the country can be very attractive. Services and support infrastructure provision is very important to foreign shipping lines. Saudi Arabia has worked hard in this regard, and now provides connected zones as well as increased efficiency at its ports. Indeed, it is not only about hardware, but also about soft infrastructure. This includes improving processes, such as Custom clearance, which Saudi Customs has done successfully. Saudi Arabia has now ensured the provision of a proper environment for the private sector to operate on an efficient and competitive basis.
To what extent can digitalisation positively disrupt and transform the transport industry?
AL RUMAIH: Digitalisation and new digital platforms are at the heart of the transport sector. For instance, all trucks in Saudi Arabia are now monitored by automatic vehicle location, and the weight of each truck can also be monitored in real time. These new technologies allow the government to better regulate traffic and driver misconduct, which will improve efficiency, delivery time and safety. Truck drivers can no longer drive or use the truck more than they should. A particular area where Saudi Arabia was lagging behind was in tracing and tracking. Now, with the digital platforms and equipment that will be placed in every truck, owners are able to monitor and track their freight in real time.
What future projects are expected to change Saudi freight and passenger flows?
AL RUMAIH: The year 2018 marked the inauguration of the Haramain High-Speed Rail between the Holy cities of Makkah and Medina. This was a major achievement for the Kingdom, including for pilgrims keen on travelling between the two cities. Construction on the Riyadh Metro, managed by the Riyadh Development Authority (RDA) is advancing, and the public is engaged and ready for the service. RDA also launched a station naming rights auction for the entire metro network, from which it has already raised over SR1bn ($0.27bn). By the end of 2019, we should witness a few lines come into operation. All this will make a great difference in terms of how people plan and live their daily lives.
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