The Arab News reports that Finance Minister, Ibrahim Al-Assaf, on Saturday 25th February 2012 signed three contacts worth SR2.34 billion with Saudi Arabian Railway (SAR) to implement a number of projects related to the North-South Railway. Starting from Riyadh, the 2,750-km railway reaches up to the northern border town of Hudaitha passing by Sudair, Qassim, Hail and Al-Jouf. It also links the phosphate and bauxite mines in Jelamaid and Baitha with industrial plants in Ras Al-Khair, Jubail and Dammam.
The new contracts were signed to establish five passenger stations, a maintenance complex in Naeeriya, 36 remote maintenance workshops, plus a technical support office and housing units for maintenance staff. Al-Rashid Trading & Contracting won the first contract worth SR1.57 billion to establish five passenger stations in Majmaa, Qassim, Hail, Al-Jouf and Qurayat. Each station will cost SR314.4 million. It is said that the project will be completed in an ambitious 24 months.
The SR495.7 million maintenance complex project was won by Yabi Markazi Co., and an official statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency said that it would be completed within 18 months. It will provide maintenance for locomotives and carriages as well as for track. The project includes fuel supply depots.
Sulaiman Al-Qudaibi & Sons won a third contract valued at SR271.58 million to establish 36 small maintenance workshops along the railway including 15 for the maintenance of track and communication systems, 11 hostels to house workers and eight administrative buildings. Speaking to reporters after the signing ceremony, Al-Assaf said the North-South Railway project was progressing well. “Last year we conducted experimental operation of the railway for transporting phosphate from Jelamaid to Ras Al-Khair,” he said, adding that it can transport up to 12,500 tons of phosphate in one trip.
The government has given priority to the North-South Railway considering its role in industrial development. It would ferry minerals from mines in the north and central zones at Jelamaid and Zubairah to processing plants at Ras Al-Khair in the east. Sponsored by the Public Investment Fund, the rail line is integral to planned phosphate and bauxite mining projects in the north of the country that will link up with processing plants and smelters on the Gulf coast. It is of strategic importance to the national economy as the processing of phosphates, which exists in commercial quantities, will place the Kingdom second internationally in exports of the mineral, besides accommodating fertilizer industry technology. It will also increase oil, agricultural and industrial products transportation, as well as goods and passengers.
It is interesting that Saudi Arabia has led the railway development programme in the Middle East. They are only too well aware of the limitations of their oil reserves and they know that, eventually, it will dry up. Positioning themselves for the Kingdom's future development, post oil, they are looking to ore mining and processing as one of the replacement industries. The building of the railway to get the ore from the mines in the north to the ports in the south east has been a priority for the government over that last few years.