Saudi Arabia to invest $97bn on massive rail expansion

The Saudi Railways Organisation (SRO) has announced plans to spend $97bn on developing a modern rail network linking all the provinces in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by 2040. 

The integrated network would consist of 19 railway lines covering 9,900km. Historically, Saudi Arabia had operated a small network connecting the capital, Riyadh, to the Gulf coast. Plans are under way to augment this with the North-South line between the Red Sea port of Jeddah and the holy city of Medina, the Haramain high-speed line between Riyadh and the eastern Mediterranean, and a Landbridge line connecting the Gulf and Jeddah.  

The SRO’s grand plan also envisages three other lines:

  • The Yanbu-Jeddah Line. This would run north from Jeddah along the Red Sea cost in the direction of Egypt.
  • The Taif-Abha line. This 706km railway would link the southern town of Al-Taif with the Landbridge line on one side and Abha and Khamis Mushayt, on the other side. It would run parallel to the Red Sea coast, but about 100km inland.
  • The 660km Jeddah-Jizan line. This would run south along the Red Sea coast in the direction of the Yemen.
The organisation seeks to maintain passenger safety and build a good reputation by implementing plans over the next 20 years to cover all major cities of the Kingdom– Muhammad Al-Suwaiket, president of SRO

The economic driver behind the plan to extend the the rail network is a Saudi plan to  exploit the Arabian peninsula’s mineral deposits.

The rail network is needed to transport minerals cost-effectively. The International Railway Journal commented: "The North-South railway is being built to International Heavy Haul Association standards, like the United Arab Emirates (UAE’s) first mineral line currently under construction by Etihad Rail. 

There is also a need to find a more efficient and safer way to transport the more than 3 million pilgrims who visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina each year. The Haramain will move those undertaking the Haj at 300km/h. 

The Saudi network will ultimately connect with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) rail scheme, which will run all way around the coast of the southern Gulf, from Kuwait to Oman. Al-Suwaiket said: "The huge GCC railway project will start from Kuwait and go through the Kingdom, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE, ending in Oman. The line will span 2,200 km."  

The rail investment is part of a larger $400bn infrastructure project. 


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