• Project entails major engineering and technical challenges
  • Rail link 958 kilometres long to connect Jeddah, Riyadh and other western cities
  • Double-track line to serve both freight and passengers

The prequalification of construction companies for the Saudi Landbridge project is now likely to take place towards the end of 2015, say sources close to the project.

MEED reported last year that the project client, Saudi Railway Corporation (SAR), plans to prequalify contractors during the first half of 2015. Local and international contractors began discussions to form joint ventures and consortiums to prequalify for the rail scheme in October last year when SAR announced the tentative prequalification dates.

In addition to connecting Jeddah, Riyadh and other cities, such as Mecca and Taif in the Western Province, the Saudi Landbridge project will also link with other transport networks.

The execution and subsequent operation of the 958-kilometre-long Saudi Landbridge pose unique engineering and technical challenges to contractors and the client. Over a quarter of the line, or the 271km stretch leading east out of Jeddah, will cross the Hijaz Mountains range, which is formed mainly by sedimentary carbonate rocks.

Once operational, the rail will have to address the problem of sand constantly accumulating in the tracks, especially in the rural areas where the wind freely moves sand dunes across the desert.

In 2013, SAR awarded Italian state railway group Italferr a $24m deal for the design. Italferr is working with a local partner, Arabian Consulting Engineering Centre. Also in 2013, US firm Fluor won the project management consultancy contract for the rail project.

Once complete, the double-track line will serve both freight and passengers. Passenger trains will travel at 300 kilometres an hour (km/h) and freight trains will run at 160km/h.

Most unawarded projects in Saudi Arabia have been affected by some level of uncertainty following the sweeping administrative changes implemented in the kingdom since May. Government and private clients, however, have consistently reassured the public of minimum cancellations since most of the infrastructure projects are aligned with the kingdom’s long-term economic diversification strategy.

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