BUSINESS

Spanish firms to start testing section of Mecca-Medina rail line at end of year

Adif and Renfe to bid for new north-south project in Saudi Arabia

The Spanish consortium building the high-speed train link between Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia plans to begin testing the new Talgo model designed for the project, which has been approved by the Saudi authorities, at the end of this year.

During a visit to inspect work on the project in Saudi Arabia at the end of last week, Spanish Public Works Minister Ana Pastor said the Saudi authorities had informed her that section four of the 450-kilometer-long line would be finished in time to test the Talgo in December.

Worth 6.736 billion euros, the Mecca-Medina project is the largest overseas contract secured by Spanish companies. It includes the design and construction of the line, the supply of 35 trains, and the operation and maintenance of the track for 12 years, extendable to 17.

The project is technically challenging as the line has to be able to operate in temperatures ranging from zero to 50 degrees Celsius and be able to cope with storms of very fine sand.

Pastor met with the Saudi ministers of transport and finance, as well as the governor of Riyadh and officials from the railway sector. She said the Saudi officials were very happy with how the Haramain (Arabic for two holy cities) project was going.

Saudi Arabia is a strategic country for Spain"

The consortium is currently working only on the 100-kilometer section four stretch of the line between kilometer 190 and 290 of the future track. The Saudi authorities are keen for the consortium to begin work as soon as possible on section five, which the Chinese-Arab consortium building the base for the line has yet to hand over.

The Spanish consortium has already begun studying section five. Meetings were taking place this week to set a timetable for completion of work on this section with regular contact to be made to monitor the degree of progress.

The Saudi authorities also explained to Pastor their plans for infrastructure development. The most imminent project is an extensive railway line for both passengers and freight running north-south for 2,400 kilometers that is due to be finished in 2017. The Spanish public railway infrastructure company Adif and the operator Renfe are interested in participating in the project and managing it when complete, as is private-sector Spanish railway company CAF.

The bidding period is open until next month and it is expected that a Spanish proposal will be shortlisted for the final tender. The line is expected to carry more than three million passengers a year and more than 10 million tons of cargo.

The Saudi government has plans to invest around 100 billion dollars (70 billion euros) in railway infrastructure alone over 10 years. Among the projects are subway systems for Mecca and Jeddah and a line that will link the Red Sea with the Persian Gulf.

Pastor and the secretary of state for infrastructure, Rafael Catalá, also expressed interest in marine and airport projects that the Saudi government is planning. "Saudi Arabia is a strategic country for Spain," Pastor said.

The public works minister was accompanied on her trip by the chairwoman of Spanish builder FCC, Esther Alcocer Koplowitz, and the company's chief executive, Juan Béjar, to talk about the contract for the Riyadh subway system.