In the report, which has been seen by MEED, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) criticises the performance by the contractors running the CTW200 and CTW300 stretches of the 2,400-kilometre line. The report assesses progress on the project up to the end of October.

The strongest criticism is reserved for the consortium of Australia’s Barclay Mowlem and Japan’s Mitsui & Company which runs CTW300, the 782-kilometre section from Al-Nafud to the Al-Jalamid mine and Al-Qurayyat. The report refers to “poor performance” and adds that “strong steps need to be taken”.

On CTW200, which is run by China Railway 18th Bureau and covers the 440 kilometres of track from Al-Zabirah to the mid-point of the Al-Nafud region, the report mentions “generally slow progress”.

By contrast, work on CTW100, which is being overseen by Saudi Binladin Group, is reported to be showing “good progress”, with submittals, survey alignment and earthworks all under way. Bin-ladin is expected to begin laying down track on its section of the track as early as next May.

Speaking to MEED, an official close to the tender process says the Mowlem/Mitsui and Chinese consortiums has been slow to start work after being awarded contracts in April (MEED 6:4:07).

However, he stresses that this is predominantly because of the difficulties foreign companies face in putting together a project team and assembling the necessary equipment in such remote areas.

In recent weeks, the official adds, progress in mobilising staff and equipment has been further hindered by the holy month of Ramadan. He emphasises that there is no question of either consortium’s contract being reviewed.

“They started late and have been slow to get programme managers and engineers, and to mobilise equipment,” he says. “The sites concerned are very remote and it is difficult for foreign contractors to get everything in place. The mobilisation process is nearly complete and progress is improving. We will continue to hold regular progress meetings with the contractors.”

An official at Barclay Mowlem says the company is satisfied with its performance so far. China Railway 18th Bureau Corporation was unavailable for comment.

Meanwhile, the tender committee has submitted its technical assessments of bids for the final construction package on CTW 400, a 480-kilometre passenger line between Al-Zabirah junction and Riyadh ’s King Khaled International Airport .

The committee’s recommendations have now been passed to the PIF, with Russian Railways the front runner. The Russian group is low bidder at SR3bn ($800m).