A few weeks ago, I had my first experience using the Saudi railway system between Riyadh and Dammam. When I shared my experience with my friend Bashar Al-Malik, CEO of the Saudi Railway Co., his response was: “Wait until you try the Haramain and Riyadh-Qassim lines.”
Back in the early 1990s, I had the opportunity to take the first commercial trip of the Eurostar between London and Paris. Although I had used pan-European trains before, that one was a trip to remember. After that journey, I never flew between London and Paris again.
The Saudi transportation sector has growth potential through the country’s Vision 2030 and great investment opportunities. Means of transportation are vital veins for creating attractive investment environments in every field. They facilitate the progress of the national economy through mobilizing passengers and goods to attract private investment in key transportation projects.
In a push to diversify its economy, Saudi Arabia is determined to increase the role of the private sector in the development of its transport infrastructure, as well as in the operation of railroads and other supply channels. Public-private partnerships are being pursued to fund several key schemes, while a number of the country’s publicly operated facilities are being earmarked for full privatization. The plan is to attract investments of over SR70 billion ($18.6 billion) in the transportation sector by 2020.
Rail transport is vital for driving economic development as it provides a competitive mode of transport, primarily for the mining industry. The network is also being developed through significant investments. Between 2015 and 2024, the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority plans to invest more than $141 billion on rail-related projects.
The jewel in the Saudi railway’s crown is the Haramain High-Speed Railway. It represents one of the most important transport projects in the expansion program of the railway network. With 450 km of track and an operational speed of 300 km/h, the Haramain railway aims to cater to passengers wishing to travel between the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah via Jeddah. The trains have been equipped with the latest signalling and communications systems along with a high-speed electrified passenger line.
Investing in the country’s railway will be addressed during the BMG Economic Forum on July 9 at the London Stock Exchange. International companies will present their visions to the Saudi government to be one of the participants in the rail expansion.
With several projects and initiatives already underway with strong private sector participation, I strongly believe that there are considerable investment opportunities await domestic and international players who are eager to participate in the development of Saudi Arabia’s promising railway system.
•Basil M.K. Al-Ghalayini