The contract for the detailed design work on the Saudi Landbridge is expected to be awarded soon, according to Hamad al-Yousef, civil and track director, projects, at the Saudi Railway Company (SAR).

The decision on the design work follows the award of the project management contract (PMC) to US Fluor in January this year.

Al-Yousef told delegates at a conference in Dubai on 5 February that the design work is estimated to take a year and that SAR will begin to prequalify companies for the construction of the line halfway through the design process.

The Saudi Landbridge will connect Jeddah on the Red Sea coast to the ports of Damman and Jubail on the Gulf coast through Riyadh. It will be 950 kilometres in length and have a double track to cater for both mineral, general freight and passenger traffic. Al-Yousef said the dry port in Riyadh is also being expanded to help support the new railway connection.

The much-anticipated rail project was initially launched in 2005, but has faced several delays related to financing. Originally, the project was planned as a 50-year build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme financed through debt. In August 2009, however, the Saudi government decided to fund the railway on its own through the state-owned Public Investment Fund (PIF), after it struggled to raise funding from private banks.
In October 2011, the PIF announced it would take control of the development of the project and appointed SAR to construct the railway.