Saudi Arabia 2017 | TRANSPORT | COLUMN

TBY talks to Bashar Khalid AlMalik, CEO, SAR, on the sector.

Bashar Khalid AlMalik

What is behind the recent structural changes to the Saudi rail system and how are you preparing for them?

In June 2016, the Saudi government requested a complete restructuring of the railway sector. In the past railway ownership and operation was split between different parties so it was unclear where governance of the sector laid. Despite this, the sector remained stable because we had only one intercity rail line between Riyadh and Dammam built 66 years ago. This situation changed with the substantial expansions taking place that forced us to reform the whole sector. Last year's government resolution consolidated rail ownership into SAR, meaning that new rail projects previously under different organizations as well as existing lines would all be transferred to SAR. The resolution also appointed the Minister of Transport as a chairman of SAR, which has given us limitless potential to develop streamlined, ambitious, and integrated projects with other organizations working in aviation, maritime and land.

What is the future of the final link in the Saudi Land Bridge Project and how will the private sector be involved in its construction?

We are currently studying and discussing the best approach on how to effectively involve the private sector, particularly when it comes to construction of railway infrastructure. This project will be a central component in achieving the kingdom's objective of making this a major transport hub.

What is the status of the northern line?

It has been operating since 2011 when we started transporting phosphate for Ma'aden (Saudi Company for Minerals) across the Kingdom to processing and exporting facilities at Ras Al Khair on the eastern Arabian Gulf coast. In 2014 we started transporting bauxite for the same company as well. Recently we branched out even further, transporting dangerous goods such as molten sulfur and sulfuric acid to phosphate processing facilities at the new mining city of Wa'ad Al Shamal, some 1,500km. We have been proud of the mineral line's success from the very beginning and endeavored to continually improve our operations. We transported 4.06 million tons of phosphate and bauxite in the first half of 2017, an increase of 27%