The Saudi Railway Company (SAR) has awarded the Italian state railway group Italferr a €28m ($24m) contract for the design of the Saudi Landbridge railway project. Italferr will be working with a local partner, Arabian Consulting Engineering Centre.

The Italian firm will develop the preliminary designs for both a passenger and freight railway line linking Jeddah on the Red Sea to the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The line will connect into the existing Riyadh-Dammam network. The passenger line will be capable of running at speeds of up to 350 kilometres per hour.

The scope of work covers track work, alignment, bridges, tunnels, passenger stations, facilities for loading and unloading from trains and handling of containers, signalling and telecommunications systems and an environmental impact assessment.

The contract is being financed by the state-owned Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) and will be managed by SAR. Design work is due to be completed within 14 months.

At the beginning of the year, US firm Fluor won the project management consultancy contract for the rail project.

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 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.