Where is the southern train?


Al-Watan newspaper

The Saudi Arabian Railway Organization announced the North-South Railway Project way back in 2004. Since then, railroads reached many parts of the country but not its south.

The railroad has been extended to Hudaitha in the north on the Jordanian border, but the authorities did not take any step to push forward the southern railway project.

The project will have to make a U-turn to justify its name. It reminds us the hero of a novel who fabricated excuses to continue his journey to the north, turning his back to the south.

When the government announced North-South Railway, it explained that it would be implemented in two phases.

The first phase was to have two lines; one from Riyadh to Hudaitha and the second from the midpoint of the first line to the bauxite-rich Zubaira, extending further to treatment and export facilities in Ras Al-Zour on the Arabian Gulf coast.

A number of subways were to be built as part of the project with one branched out from the main Riyadh-Hudaitha line to serve the phosphate mines in the northwestern Jalamid region. Another branch was to serve the Basita agricultural area in the Kingdom’s northeast. A sub-line was planned from the main line between Zubaira and Ras Al-Zour to serve the Bauxite mines in Zubaira while another sub-line was to be constructed to serve Jubail Industrial City overlooking the Arabian Gulf. The proposed length of this project is 2,400 kilometers.

The second phase of the project was to start from Riyadh to Hotat Bani Tamim to Wadi Al-Dawasser. This line would then pass by the southern cities of Najran and Khamis Mushayt. From Khamis Mushayt it was to be extended further to Baha and Taif. Another railway line was to be established on the Red Sea coast extending from Jazan to Jeddah and then to the northern city of Tabuk.

But while the people of south were awaiting the implementation of the project’s second phase, the Finance Ministry issued a statement saying the North-South Railway Project was not viable. This statement dashed the hopes of people in the south as they were eagerly looking forward to this vital project.

The southern regions of Jazan, Asir, Najran and Wadi Dawasser lacked integrated infrastructure, especially specialized healthcare, as well as job opportunities. As a result many people in the south migrate to other regions looking for jobs, healthcare services and modern facilities.

The construction of a railway linking the south to the north is the first step toward building infrastructure in the south. Railways are generally considered as one of basic transportation means by all countries. It is the best means to achieve balanced economic growth in any country.

As a country, we were late to build railways and the Transport Ministry’s hesitation to fulfill its promise will further delay the development of the southern regions of the country. I believe that this vital project, if implemented, would help realize a balanced regional development in accordance with the government’s strategy.

Our state is always keen to have integrated infrastructure for all the Kingdom’s regions in order for its citizens to lead the decent life they deserve.

In 2015, the minister of transport wrote in Al-Jazirah Arabic daily commenting on an article by Dr. Mohammed Al-Owain on Southern Railway. The minister said: “Regarding the Southern Railway you mentioned in the article I would like to clarify that the ministry has not ignored this important project. The ministry has conducted a study on constructing railways in a number of regions including the southern regions.”

He added: “Efforts are under way to update the strategic plan to link some cities with the existing railway system. A number of railway lines will be established, linking Riyadh, Al-Kharj, Hotat Bani Tamim, Wadi Al-Dawasser, Najran and Khamis Mushayt. There will be a railway line linking the city of Jazan with Jeddah. Another railway line will connect Khamis Mushayt, Abha, Baha and Taif, and all these lines will be linked with a land-bridge project.”

We are now on the threshold of the year 2018 but nothing has been done to fulfill the minister’s promise. The question remains: Where is the southern railway?