Saudi Arabia is planning to issue tenders for its long-delayed Land Bridge rail project linking the Red Sea port of Jeddah with the Arabian Gulf and the capital Riyadh by early 2018, according to reports.
Saudi Railways Company chief executive Bashar Al Malik told Bloomberg the firm had seen an encouraging response to an invitation for expressions of interest for the 1,600km line from the private sector.
As a result it will issue contract tenders by the end of 2017 or early 2018, he said.
Contracts for the project were first awarded in 2008 with the aim of accelerating freight transport across the kingdom from the current five days to two days.
However, a financial disagreement with the selected consortium meant the government eventually opted to build the line itself in 2011 and there has been little progress since.
The project originally included 958km of track between Jeddah and Riyadh, the upgrade of a 450km line between Riyadh and Dammam and a second 150km line between Dammam and Jubail.
Al Malik said the cost of the line would depend on the exact route chosen and the location of the Red Sea terminal. It was originally estimated to cost around $7bn.
Local and international engineering companies and financial institutions are expected to be among the bidders.
The kingdom has allocated $14bn to infrastructure and transport projects this year from $10.1bn last year amid renewed progress on key rail projects.
The high-speed Haramain line linking Makkah and Madinah is expected to by fully operational in the first quarter of 2018 following test runs this year.
The kingdom will also open a 2,750km line from Riyadh to Gurayat on the Jordanian border to passengers in December, according to reports.
Saudi Railways is looking at other projects including an increase to freight capacity for Saudi Arabian Mining Co at Waad al-Shamal in the kingdom’s north and extra rail links to Saudi Aramco’s operations in the Tabuk, Turaif and Al Jouf areas.
Another potential project could increase freight haulage for agricultural production in the Busaita area of Al Jouf that is home to some of the kingdom’s largest farms, the official told Bloomberg.