THREE CONTRACTS totalling 7·1bn riyals were signed on April 3 covering construction of 1 765 km of the North-South Railway in Saudi Arabia (RG 4.07 p184). Minister of Finance Dr Ibrahim Al-Assaf said the work would be completed in 42 months.

The kingdom's Public Investment Fund has set up a holding company to administer the project, known as the Saudi Company for Railways (SAAR). This is to be funded by 65% debt and 35% equity, with an initial public offering later this year.

A consortium of the Saudi Binladen Group, Mohammed Al-Swailem Co and German contractors will be responsible for building the 576 km section between Ras Azzawr and Az Zabirah, at a cost of 2·3bn riyals.

The 1·9 riyals contract for the 440 km second stage from Az Zabirah Junction to the Great Al-Nufud Desert has been awarded to the Al-Suwaikat Group, which is working with China's 18th Railway Construction Bureau.

The third contract was awarded to Barclay Mowlem of Australia and Mitsui of Japan in co-operation with local company Al-Rashed. Valued at 2·8bn riyals, this covers 818 km of route from An-Nafoud to Al-Haditha, Al-Jalamid and Al-Basayta.

According to PIF, Saudi Arabian Mining Company Maaden signed a contract with Saudi Basic Industries Corp in March covering the construction and operation of the planned phosphate processing plant at Ras Azzawr, and expects to agree the financing for this later in 2007.