Consultancy and contracting firms expect to receive more details about the potential tender for the construction of the 1,300km Saudi Landbridge railway scheme during the consultation event on 29 October organised by Saudi Arabia’s Public Transport Authority (PTA).

In September, Saudi Railway Company (SAR) CEO Bashar al-Malik was reported to have said that the kingdom plans to issue a request for proposal (RFP) for the Saudi Landbridge project in late 2017 or early 2018.

Al-Malik said the RFPs are to be issued in response to an “encouraging response from an invitation of expression of interest (EoI).”

However, it is understood that Al-Malik could have been referring to the EoI issued by the PTA in July for the programme to privatise the operation of the kingdom’s mainline railway sector, including the existing North-South Railway and the much older Riyadh-Dammam railway line.

While the dame EoI document had indicated that it could cover “future projects such as the GCC rail network, the Landbridge, and other smaller sections of railway planned within the kingdom,” it did not explicitly request an interest for the Landbridge project itself.

Rumaih al-Rumaih, president of Saudi Arabia’s Public Transport Authority and Saudi Railways Organisation (SRO), said in March that the Saudi Landbridge project will be procured using a public-private partnership (PPP) model.

It was the same original development model envisaged in 2005, when the project was first launched.

The line was proposed to be developed on a 50-year build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme financed through debt. Four consortiums submitted bids for the concession. After a second round of bidding, a local group of Acwa Power and Saudi Binladin Group emerged as the low bidder, but banks were understood to be wary of providing the quantities of debt required for the scheme and the project stalled.

The PPP plan was consequently dropped and the scheme was relaunched as a state-funded project, with the Public Investment Fund (PIF) to provide financing, in 2011.

Italian consultancy Italferr and its local partner Arabian Consulting Engineering Centre completed the design for the Saudi Landbridge project earlier this year.

The initial design contract, which was awarded in 2013 was extended for another 20 months at a cost of $70m in August 2015.

The extension was due to the expansion of the railway line coverage from an initial 960km to 1,300km.

The updated design will see the Landbridge project extending from Jeddah seaports to Dammam and Jubail on the Arabian Sea. The line will pass through the capital Riyadh and other cities such as Mecca and Taif in the Western Province, as well as link with other transport networks.