The Kingdom has, in my opinion, one of the best transportation sectors in the region.When it comes to roads, we score among the first globally. When it comes to railways, around 2007 huge investments started taking place to expand the railway network. Since then, these 450 km have grown to become approximately 5000 km in length today. We have expanded to serve the centre of the Kingdom, the Eastern Region, the Western Region, and all the way to the Jordanian border in the north. The Riyadh-Dammam line, which was built in the early 1950s, was a very important breakthrough. This was, until recently, the only railway line that existed in the region. It connects the Dammam port and the Gulf to the dry port in the capital city of Riyadh. This line was further extended to support the mineral mines in the Eastern Region and the Northern Region, to exceed 4000 km in length. The Ras Al Khair and Dammam line is a very important part of our railway network. It will connect the North-South network with the existing Riyadh-Dammam line. By having this network completed you will have accessibility to more seaports, plus, it will ensure that the petrochemicals industry is being served through the railway network.
This line is already advanced in terms of execution – progress has exceeded 70% so far. And again, this will totally change the logistics performance of this part of the country. Recently, the Haramain High-Speed Rail, that served the two holy mosques in Makkah and Medina, was really a breakthrough in terms of passenger railway networks, by having the fastest one in the region, and one of the highest 10 networks in speed globally. Integration has always been very important. Today I believe that the Kingdom has an excellent transportation system that will serve not only the Kingdom, but the region as a whole.
An important element of the railway network in the region is the Saudi Landbridge Project. The Saudi Landbridge Project will represent the East-West Corridor. And as such, it will ensure that the Kingdom as a whole will have accessibility to rail. It will connect the Red Sea with the Gulf, which is a very important connection. Of course, this will give all GCC countries accessibility to the Red Sea as well. It will reduce the amount of transportation going through the peninsula. It will ensure that better efficiency, reliability and lower cost can be achieved. This will help the region as a whole to become part of the global trade between the East and West. Several opportunities are being floated to the market for the local and international private sector to participate.
The Landbridge is already in the studying and initial design phase with the private sector. So, moving forward, no doubt the private sector will have and play an important role in the railway sector as a whole. Not only in terms of the expansion of the network, but in the operation and maintenance part as well. Having the private sector involved will, no doubt, improve the efficiency and reliability of the service as well. There will be several models adapted. There are some feasible lines that the private sector is extremely interested to get involved in. There are other parts, where it is not as feasible. And as is the case globally, the government will have to step in and provide some sort of support – guarantees to the private sector to have them involved. Globally, railway projects in general do require a lot of capital investments. And the return on those investments are very low. And that is why you will find very few players when it comes to this sector globally that are willing to invest in the execution of new lines or even in operating and maintaining the lines.
However, challenges do exist in all sectors, and railway is no exception. As they say, if there is a will, there is always a way.