In a siding at the headquarters of the Saudi Railways Organisation (SRO) in Dammam stands the latest initiative to come from the offices of Khalid Alyahya, president of Saudi Railways.
A brand new set of carriages, painted in the new corporate livery and configured with the First Class seating arrangements for SRO’s new Arihab Class, awaits introduction into service between Dammam and Riyadh.
“Arihab Class will provide a new travel experience on the Dammam-Riyadh line. It was designed with space and comfort in mind,” said Alyahya. “I want to introduce a pleasurable experience for our customers which will include entertainment systems as well as internet access.”
Alyahya has been in the driving seat of the SRO since 1999, when he was appointed as its president by Royal decree. Over the past six years he has worked towards improving the performance of the organisation with the objective of readying railway network in Saudi Arabia for privatisation and expansion.
His background as an engineer, coupled with his previous involvement in the world of finance, has made him the ideal choice to spearhead the future development of Saudi Arabia’s railways system. In 1995, Alyahya was nominated by the government to serve as executive director for Saudi Arabia on the board of directors of the World Bank Group and he held this position until his appointment as president of the SRO in 1999. During his time with the World Bank, he also chaired the World Bank’s board of directors committee on administrative matters.
“My engineering background coupled with my experience at the SFD and the World Bank came in handy when I was entrusted with overseeing Saudi Arabia’s railway sector. I came from the first day with a vision to improve the efficiency and performance of what had been a rather stagnant public enterprise and to create the right environment to expand it through investments by the private sector,” said Alyahya.
Since 1999, Alyahya has worked towards the privatisation and expansion of the railways and today he is poised to achieve what will be a remarkable story of regeneration and growth which will have a huge impact on the country’s economic progress. “Saudi Arabia provides an opportunity that does not exist in many other countries. The majority of the population is centered around a linear axis which includes Jeddah and Makkah in the west, the capital Riyadh in the centre, and the Eastern Province. This provides the opportunity to create a railway network which is both economically and commercially viable,” he explained. “The long distances between our population centres favour trains over other modes of transport and together with our geographical position, vis-à-vis other countries in the region, a robust rail link can capture huge benefits for the country and our neighbours.”
Alyahya has worked towards obtaining the approvals for three railway projects which will expand the network and create a rail link across the Kingdom. The plans include joining Jeddah with Riyadh and utilising the current rail link to Dammam to complete the connection between the eastern and western provinces. “We have been working during the last two years with world-class financial, legal, and technical advisers to structure the concession and design the regulatory framework necessary to allow private sector participation in railways,” he said.
The Landbridge project is the cornerstone of the SRO’s expansion plan and, according to Dr Jobarah Al Suraisry, minister of transport and chairman of the SRO, will be one of the largest BOT (build, operate and transfer) projects ever undertaken in the Middle East. The Saudi Landbridge will involve building a new 950-km line from Riyadh west to Jeddah and a 115-km line from Dammam north to Jubail, as well as upgrading the existing Riyadh-Dammam Railway. In addition, plans to build a Western Railway will involve 750 km of new track being laid from Jeddah to Makkah and north east to Madinah and Yanbu. Finally, plans for a 1,300 km mineral railway will run north from Riyadh to Hazm Al Jalamid.
The Saudi Landbridge has attracted a total of nine consortia seeking to be prequalified to participate in the project tendering process to be launched later this year but Alyahya has a clear vision of the end result. “I would like to see a modern railway system serving all major population and economic centres in Saudi Arabia, which does not overburden public finances. I believe that an efficient railway system will play an important role in the economic and social development of the country,” he said.
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