AN INTERNATIONAL consortium led by the US-based Louis Berger Group is to undertake detailed design and manage the construction of a 1800 km heavy haul network serving mineral reserves in northern Saudi Arabia. Other members of the consortium are Systra, Canarail and the Saudi Consolidated Engineering Co.

Worth 512m riyals over 75 months, the contract was signed in Riyadh on November 29 by Minister of Finance Dr Ibrahim Al-Assaf. Also participating in the event was Dr Abdullah Dabbagh, President of the Saudi Arabian Mining Co (Ma’aden), which has the concession to develop the line and the phosphate deposits at Al Jalamid.

Expected to open in 2010, the 1100 km trunk line will connect with the existing SRO network in Riyadh, and run northwest through the provinces of Al Jawf, Hail and Qassim to Al Hudaitha, near the border with Jordan. A branch from Al Qurayya at the northern end of the line will serve the phosphate deposits at Al Jalamid, and a second branch in Hail province will serve Ma’aden’s bauxite deposits at Az Zabirah.

Phosphate trains will continue from Riyadh over SRO tracks to the Gulf coast, where a 115 km extension from Dammam will serve the processing plant at Al Jubail. Total cost of the project is put at US$2·8bn.

Dabbagh said that although the railway is primarily designed for freight, Ma’aden has not ruled out the provision of passenger services, and a separate railway operating company is to be set up. Planning has also started for a 400 km extension from Al Hudaitha into Jordan, which could be completed by 2012 to create a link between Riyadh and Amman.