The passenger line of Saudi Arabia’s North-South Railway (NSR) is expected to begin commercial operations in early 2017.

The 1,418-kilometre line runs from Riyadh to Al-Qurayyat, passing through Al-Maajma, Hail and Al-Jouf.

Trial operations of the line started in June 2015, with commercial operations initially announced to begin before the end of the year. The UK’s Serco Group along with Network Rail Consulting and Freightliner Group, also of the UK, will operate the passenger lines following the award in February 2015 of a five-year, $185m deal to provide technical support for the railway’s passenger operations.

Senior officials including Riyadh Governor Prince Faisal bin Bandar, Transport Minister Sulaiman al-Hamdan, Al-Maajma Governor Prince Abdul Rahman bin Abdullah, and Rumaih M Alrumaih, CEO of Saudi Railway Company (SAR), participated in a trial run of the railway, according to a local media report on 22 October.

Work on the passenger stations began with a $419m contract for five stations awarded to the local Al-Rashid Trading & Contracting, in 2012 following the opening of the railway’s minerals freight section. The five passenger stations were built at Riyadh, Al-Maajma, Qassim, Hail, Al-Jouf and Qurayyat. Construction of the stations was completed in August 2015. Spain’s CAF was awarded a SR53m contract to supply five passenger trains able to travel at speeds of up to 200km an hour.

The NSR’s 1,486km freight line, which started to operate in November 2015, originates from the Al-Jalamid phosphate belt in northern Saudi Arabia to Al-Zabirah, which hosts the kingdom’s rich bauxite deposits in the centre. It then runs eastwards to the processing and manufacturing facilities in Ras al-Khair on the Gulf, where the final products are shipped by sea. Freight trains on this line run at 80 kilometres per hour (kph) when loaded and 100kph when empty.

France’s Thales recently won a contract for the one-year maintenance of the 2,400-kilometre NSR.