Saudi government studies on a plan to build 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) of new railways have shown the multi-billion-dollar project is economically feasible, the transport minister insisted Friday, October 5.
Nasser Al-Sallum said in the Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat that the project will be carried out entirely by the private sector on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis.
The actual cost of the rail links and duration of construction will be determined through detailed studies by consultants to be hired soon by the ministry, Sallum said. The main project envisages adding a 945-kilometre (590-mile) rail link between Riyadh and the kingdom's main commercial port in Jeddah on the Red Sea. This will complete the rail link between the country's east and west coasts through the existing 450-kilometer (280-mile) rail link between Riyadh and Dammam on the oil-rich eastern coast.
Initial estimates put the cost of this project alone at more than $1.7 billion. It is expected to boost cargo by 19.5 percent to 30 million tons and transport 23 million passengers a year.
Another 610-kilometre (380-mile) rail link is planned to start from Riyadh and go northwest to the Haditha border post with Jordan. A third 115-kilometre (75-mile) railway is planned to link Dammam with the industrial city of Jubail on the Gulf coast. And the fourth railway project is to link Jeddah with the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, a distance of 425 kilometers (265 miles).
Sallum said the Supreme Economic Council, the kingdom's highest economic decision-making body, was still looking into the projects, for which several foreign and local firms are bidding.
Japan last year turned down a Saudi request to finance a two-billion-dollar rail link between phosphate mines in the north and industrial centers in eastern Saudi Arabia, arguing it was not economically viable. The decision cost Tokyo an oil-drilling concession, which Riyadh refused to renew in February 2000.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the Arabian Peninsula with a railway. It was originally built under the Ottomans to transport Muslim pilgrims to Islam's holiest sites in Mecca. — (AFP, Riyadh)
© Agence France Presse
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )