As the heart of Saudi Arabia’s industrial sector and endowed with a wide array of plentiful mineral and hydrocarbons resources, maintaining effective transportation routes throughout the Eastern Province is crucial to the economy’s smooth running. Seeking to keep vital supplies of petroleum and a growing range of imports and exports flowing, the government is working to connect the Eastern Province through an increasingly modern and efficient network of roads and rail links, while also boosting its broader transport abilities through expanded sea and air facilities.
Many of the Kingdom’s seaports are located on the Eastern Province coastline and provide a crucial trade link to the world, specifically for the export of oil. One of the largest of these is the King Abdulaziz Port, located in Dammam, which serves as an entry point for imports as well as an outlet for the growing number of industrial exports manufactured in the surrounding area. The port loaded a total of 5.48m dead weight tonnes (dwt) containers and handled 10.12m dwt of containers in 2012, along with 6m dwt of solid bulk cargo and 4.82m dwt of general cargo, according to statistics from the Saudi Port Authority (SPA). This was up from the 8.84m dwt on containers handled in 2011, as well as the 5.89m dwt of solid bulk cargo and 4.25m dwt of general cargo. Overall tonnage handled at the port has increased for the last few consecutive years, with 19.27m, 23.6m, 25.87m and 27.36m tonnes posted, respectively, in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Serving the rapidly expanding industrial city of Jubail, the King Fahd Industrial Port provides marine facilities for berthing tankers and cargo ships transporting bulk and general cargo. Cargo handling has remained relatively steady in recent years, registering 44.7m tonnes, 46.39m tonnes and 43.09m tonnes in 2011, 2010 and 2009, respectively. This will likely pick up in coming years as new petrochemicals capacity comes on-line in Jubail Industrial City II. The Jubail Commercial Port provides complementary shipping services to the bulk offerings of the industrial port. Its container terminal handled 97,048 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2009, 123,762 TEUs in 2010 and 166,212 TEUs in 2011.
Purpose-built to serve as a petroleum export hub, the Ras Tanoura Port is one of the largest crude and liquefied petroleum gas export terminals in the world and is capable of accommodating ships of up to 550,000 dwt as well as storage capacity of 33m barrels.
A fifth major port is also under construction to support the mineral-focused industrial city of Ras Al Khair. Initiated in 2008, construction work is being carried out by China Harbour Engineering Company on a SR2.2bn ($586m) contract signed with the SPA. The port began limited operations in 2011 and will be capable of handling 4.34m tonnes of cargo annually at full capacity.
In addition to the growing number of motorways crisscrossing the region and the impressive 25-km King Fahd Causeway linking the country to Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf, Saudi Arabia has been constructing a growing railway network, parts of which will eventually link into the GCC-wide network, currently in the planning stages. To facilitate trade and support the growing importance of industrial and natural resources in the east with the economic and population centres in the central and western areas of the country, the government has developed the Master Rail Plan (MRP).
The MRP features rail enhancement projects located within the Eastern Province, particularly those that fall under the first level of high-priority projects. Developmental stage one, which runs from 2010 to 2025 and will require investments of some SR63bn ($16.8bn), includes work on building and upgrading 5500 km of track. These include major projects in the province such as the double-line upgrade of the existing railway lines between Dammam and Riyadh, the planned Saudi Landbridge between Dammam and Jubail, the North-South Mineral Line between the northern regions, Ras Al Khair/Jubail and Riyadh, and connections to the proposed GCC rail network, with lines linking Batha, Hofuf, Jubail and Ras Al Khair to rail at the borders of the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain (see Transport chapter).
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