COME ONE COME ALL

Saudi Arabia 2017 | TRANSPORT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Sulaiman bin Abdullah Al-Hamdan, Former Minister of Transport and current Minister of Civil Service, on an attractive legislative framework for investment, railway linkages, and port developments.

How does the ministry encourage the privatization in the Saudi transport sector?

The participation of local and foreign investors in the ownership and management of the transport sector is a major objective in the Saudi Vision 2030, and the ministry is currently working, on several levels, to achieve this goal with the following steps: first, review and develop the existing regulations and legislation to provide a suitable legislative environment for investment; and second, restructure various transport sector entities (roads, airports, ports, railways) to be organizationally ready to implement legislation and controls based on best international practices. In this context, aviation, ports, and railways sectors have been corporatized, applying all corporate governance requirements to commercially manage all the transport operations and led by professional executives and independent boards. These companies will be subsequently offered to local and international investors soon. The ministry also seeks to establish workshops and introductory meetings with contractors, engineering offices, and universities to present the direction of the ministry and take their comments in the development of systems, procedures, and privatization programs.

2017 is expected to be an important year to work on major Saudi railways initiatives, including the GCC railways and Al-Haramain express line. What are the ministry's expectations for these projects and their importance in connecting the Kingdom's regions?

Roads have connected the GCC countries for a long time. Currently, there are no such projects within the ministry's plan for the coming years. Yet, The Ministry of Transport is responsible for maintaining the roads within the Saudi borders. Concerning the connection between GCC countries via railways, specialized international companies and expert offices have been commissioned to carry out studies. Moreover, a financial and technical committee has been formed to present the detailed studies and recommendations for developments and implementation. The studies began to draw the project road map, specify the scope of work, and propose the timetable for each stage of the project. The initial studies show that the total length of these lines is about 2,116km while the length of the line within the Saudi territory around 660km. Moreover, a global consulting firm completed the initial design, which is now under review. As for implementing the part within the Kingdom, the project will be launched soon and is expected to be completed by 2023. This project will lead to further economic integration among the GCC countries as well as social rapprochement. There are direct positive benefits of this project in facilitating trade between the GCC countries and the freedom of transport of its citizens and residents. Regarding Al-Haramain Express Train, it will be launched soon and will serve passengers, including Hajj pilgrims, connecting the Kingdom's two holy cities of Mecca and Medina via stations at the new airport in Jeddah and at King Abdullah Economic City near Rabigh. This project will cut travel time between the two cities down to as little 2.5 hours, instead of more than four hours and will reduce pollution, traffic, and fuel consumption.

Freight is a key element in the Saudi economy through its contribution to nearly 90% of total exports and imports. With the ongoing expansions at King Abdulaziz Port in Dammam and Jeddah Islamic Port, what is your vision of the role that this sector will play in achieving sustainable growth?

Saudi Ports is a huge supporter of the Kingdom's economy, and all development or expansion projects implemented at ports are in the interest of the national economy. The ports' role in the upcoming phase will increase significantly, effectively contributing to the national transformation program and Vision 2030. In addition to the significant role of facilitating export and import operations, the Saudi Ports Authority seeks to achieve a significant transfer in management methods, operational performance, and productivity in line with the economic diversification of the Kingdom.