Saudi Arabia Transportation and Telecommunication

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Overview:

Once accessible only via camel caravan, Saudi Arabia has made rapid improvements in its transportation and communications networks through its five-year development plans. Improvements in roads, railroads, airports, and telecommunications have come rapidly since 1970. However, with agricultural and industrial development, traffic also has increased rapidly. Continuing improvements will be necessary to allow for long-term economic growth as well as to decrease congestion and preserve the quality of urban life.

Roads:

Saudi Arabia is served by more than 156,000 kilometers of roads, about one-third of which are paved and the rest, improved earth. This network is vital not only for use by private citizens, but also to allow the oil industry to grow and prosper. The Trans-Arabian Highway serves to link Saudi Arabia’s major cities—Ad Dammam, Riyadh, Jiddah, Mecca, and Medina. Most villages in Saudi Arabia, even in remote areas, are now connected to the larger road network. The road system also has connected Saudi Arabia more closely to its neighbors, both literally and diplomatically. The King Fahd Causeway (known also as the Bahrain Causeway), completed in 1986, connects Saudi Arabia to Bahrain. Whereas the emphasis has largely shifted to maintaining the network of roads already in place, one future project under consideration is a causeway that would link Saudi Arabia to Egypt.

Railroads:

As of 2004, Saudi Arabia had 1,392 kilometers of railroads, all at a standard 1.435-meter gauge. In 2001, 790,000 passengers traveled on Saudi trains. In addition, Saudi trains carried 1.5 million tons of cargo. In comparison to the other means of transport in the country, however, railroads remain relatively undeveloped. The difficult terrain has made laying track a costly endeavor. Currently, the country’s most significant railroad is one that covers 570 kilometers between Riyadh and Ad Dammam, linking the capital with a significant port and industrial city. The Saudi Railways Organization (SRO), which oversees the country’s rail network, has gained approval from the Supreme Economic Council for two major expansions that will add nearly 3,000 kilometers to the rail network. The Saudi Landbridge project will connect the port cities of Jiddah, Al Damman, Al Jubayl, and Riyadh with a modern rail system useful for both cargo and passenger transport. The Mecca-Medina Rail Link will connect Saudi Arabia’s two holiest cities, making the transport of pilgrims more efficient and safe.

Ports:

Saudi Arabia has 21 modern ports that handled 132 million tons of cargo and welcomed more than 1 million passengers in 2005. The major Red Sea ports are located in Jiddah, Yanbu, and Jizan. On the Persian Gulf, Ad Dammam and Al Jubayl are Saudi Arabia’s most significant ports. In 2004 the industrial ports at Al Jubayl, Jiddah, and Yanbu each handled more than 30 million tons of cargo. Together, they handled more than 80 percent of the kingdom’s cargo. The Jiddah Islamic Port, as it is officially titled, also serves as the main entry port for pilgrims arriving to visit Mecca and Medina. The port at Ad Dammam, like the one in Jiddah, has a fully equipped repair yard. The newest major port to be completed, located at the northern end of the Red Sea at Dhiba, is the closest port to the Suez Canal and Egyptian ports. The Saudi government, through its port authority, regulates all ports. As in most sectors of the economy, privatization is being attempted at a gradual pace. In 1999 some of the service aspects f port operation, including maintenance and management of docks, were opened to private contracts.

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Inland Waterways:

Saudi Arabia has no permanent rivers or waterways.

Civil Aviation and Airports:

According to U.S. government statistics, Saudi Arabia has a total of 202 airports including 73 with paved runways and 129 with unpaved runways. The country also boasts six heliports. Saudi Arabia has four major international airports, located in Jiddah, Riyadh, Al Hufuf, and Dhahran. King Abd al Aziz International Airport serves Jiddah and currently handles about 13 million passengers annually. Plans exist for expansion in Jiddah to include a Hajj Terminal to further accommodate Muslim pilgrims. King Khalid International Airport serves the capital city of Riyadh. It currently has the capacity to handle 7.5 million passengers annually, but there are plans for expansion. A system of 24 regional airports connects the remote regions of the country to the international airports and consequently to the rest of the world. Currently, Saudi Arabian Airlines is the major operator for the region. With a fleet of more than 100 aircraft, it transports more than 10 million passengers annually and is the largest airline company in the Middle East.

Pipelines:

According to U.S. estimates, Saudi Arabia has a total of 9,413 kilometers of pipeline. This total includes pipeline designated for condensate, 212 kilometers; gas, 1,780 kilometers; liquid petroleum, 1,191 kilometers; oil, 5,068 kilometers, and other refined products, 1,162 kilometers.

Telecommunications:

In 1998 Saudi Arabia’s telecommunications industry was largely privatized. The sector is now dominated by the Saudi Telecommunications Company, which employs more than 70,000 Saudis. The Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology provides governmental oversight.

Statistics gathered in 1998 showed that there were 43 AM, 31 FM, and two short-wave radio stations in operation in Saudi Arabia, and Saudis owned about 6.3 million radios (in 1997). Currently, two television channels broadcast in Saudi Arabia—one in English and one in Arabic, with 117 stations providing coverage throughout the country. Estimates from 2000 show that Saudis had 5.7 million television sets.

Saudi Arabia has a modern and expanding telephone system, with more than 3.6 million main lines in use in 2004. The technology used for domestic lines includes microwave radio relay, coaxial cable, and fiber-optic cable stems. Seven “earth stations” are linked to the Intelstat Satellite System, which allows Saudi citizens direct dialing access to more than 200 countries around the globe. According to 2002 statistics, Saudi Arabia had 151 telephone mainlines per 1,000 people. Mobile and cellular phones have become increasingly popular in the last decade. More than 9 million Saudis had cellular phones in 2004.

The use of personal computers and the Internet has increased rapidly in the early 2000s. Internet service first became available in Saudi Arabia in 1999. With access routed through a state server, the government, as it has in many industries, took control of the technological and economic development of the Internet. The number of Internet users in the country nearly doubled between 2003 and 2005, reaching 2.5 million.

~Library of Congress, 2006~

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