OFF THE TIP, ON THE RAILS

Saudi Arabia 2017 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Rumaih M. Al-Rumaih, President of Public Transport Authority (PTA) & Acting President of Saudi Railway Organization, on teaming up with commercially committed partners, making sure the Kingdom's land and sea bridges are of the first order, and providing employment for all the Kingdom's inhabitants.

Rumaih M. Al-Rumaih
BIOGRAPHY
Rumaih M. Al-Rumaih brings a wealth of practical and academic experience from a long-distinguished career in the transport industry to PTA. He has been instrumental in the development of public transport sector policies. Previously, he was the President of the Saudi Railway Organization (SRO) and acting Governor of the Saudi Railways Commission. Prior to that, he was the CEO of Saudi Railway Company (SAR). SAR operates 2,750km of railway transporting phosphates from the Al-Jalameed Mine in the northeast and bauxite from the Al Baitha Mine in the Al-Qassim province to the new port city of Ras Al Khair. It also operates a new passenger line connecting Riyadh to the Jordanian border.

What is the role of PTA in Saudi Arabia's rapidly evolving transport sector?

In 2016, there was a decision to merge the PTA with the Railway Commission, a move that significantly expanded the agency's portfolio. The goal was to move the regulation of transport goods and marine regulation from the Ministry of Transport to this authority. This was a significant shift within the sector, and one that conforms with other government restructurings to provide more independence and a clearer structure. The PTA is responsible for regulating three sectors: railway, land transport, and maritime transport. It is totally independent. The authority does not own or operate projects; it just regulates. Our aim is to have a solid, well-regulated industry that is inviting for local and foreign investment.

What key regulations and changes indicate your new direction?

It is no secret that if we do not have a regulated industry we will be doomed. In Saudi Arabia, there are more than one million trucks; unless we regulate this fleet we will face problems. A government company has developed a platform for us called Wassal, which connects point A to point B. The role of this platform is to bring in licensed service providers to one stage. This platform will centralize data, such as the weight of the truck, the hours the driver has driven, and his record, and will include dispatchers and other stakeholders. With that technological leap we will be able to improve services and reduce accidents. In addition, we have been regulating and working with a public company called Takum. It is in charge of enforcing all transport laws and fining all violations. We are assisting on the ground to ensure the taxi drivers are licensed and have the right safety equipment. Our role in maritime is making sure everyone is following international agreements and adhering to them for safety, environmental, and other regulatory requirements.

What is the future of the Saudi land bridge project?

Part of the Vision 2030 is for Saudi Arabia to become an international logistics hub. Saudi Arabia is half the size of Western Europe. We need to have proper ports that can accommodate our expansion, especially on the Red Sea. Approximately one-third of the world's traffic moves through the Red Sea via the Suez Canal. The land bridge is a key part of the success of our ports. It will be freight oriented and be tendered to the private sector.

The Haramain High-Speed Rail project is on track to begin limited operations later this year. Will it be profitable to operate in the medium term?

The goal is to have a sustainable project, so the ticket price has not been decided yet. We need to have affordable prices while still being profitable and managing costs. We are studying the tariff and every cost. This project will pay for itself with the tickets and real estate around it.

What are the major things you hope to accomplish in 2017?

2017 is the year we want to make sure we have commercially committed partners, not hit and run investors. The goal for the end of 2017 is to identify the proper industry players and support the committed ones. We also need to improve the safety of our transportation and provide enough job opportunities for Saudis. We have already started by requiring service providers such as Uber and Careem to use Saudi drivers.