The Saudi Railway Organization (SRO) has called upon specialised national and international companies to participate in the implementation of the 500km Makkah to Madinah Rail Link (MMRL) project by offering their tenders.

“The project aims at providing a safe, fast, reliable and comfortable mode of transport for Umrah and Haj pilgrims traveling between the two holy cities and Jeddah,” says the SRO in a statement. Economists expect participation from major European, US and Japanese companies in the project, which will be implemented on a design, build, operate and transfer (DBOT) basis.

“A typical consortium bidding for the project will include a high-speed technology provider, rail operator, and a construction company as well as financial, legal and technical advisers,” the SRO claims. The MMRL includes the construction of approximately 500km of new high-speed electrified railway lines between Jeddah and Makkah and between Jeddah and Madinah. It will be equipped with modern signalling and telecommunications systems.

SRO planned the project after observing the growing number of pilgrims who travel between the holy cities. The number is expected to grow further as a result of new regulations facilitating Umrah traffic. Nearly 2.5mn pilgrims visit the two holy cities during the Haj season. In addition, 7.5mn people, including 2mn in Ramadan alone, come for Umrah annually.

Emphasising the profitability of the project, Saudi transport minister Jabara Al-Seraisry says MMRL would make SR500mn in revenues by 2010 and SR750mn by 2030.

With about 28mn inhabitants, the Saudi population is not dense relative to the size of the country (about 2mn square km), but its growth rate is relatively high at 3.27%. The population is consequently expected to reach 39mn in 2020 and 47mn in 2030. The population of the cities of Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah are collectively in excess of 5mn, with Jeddah home to about 2.8mn people. “At present there are more than 20mn travellers per year and this number is expected to grow to 30mn by 2020,” the SRO claims.

Meanwhile, four consortia comprising Saudi and foreign companies have qualified to present their offers to carry out the land bridge project, the main thrust of the kingdom’s railway expansion project.

This project involves construction of 950km of new tracks between Riyadh and Jeddah and another 115km line between Dammam and Jubail. Seraisry emphasises the significance of the land bridge, saying it would strengthen the kingdom’s position on the map of regional and international transport. The land bridge will reduce travel time between Riyadh and Jeddah by at least five hours depending on the type of trains used. Cargo trains would be able to cover the distance between Jeddah and Dammam in 24 hours.