The GCC’s high-speed rail lines do not need to operate at 350 kilometres an hour (km/h). Consultants speaking at MEED’s Mena Rail & Metro Summit in Dubai on 20 October said the extra cost and safety challenges mean that speeds of 300km/h would be more appropriate,

“There is a strong focus in the region to go for 350 km/h,” says Dago Beek, programme manager at US-based Fluor.  “It is too fast. Economically it kills projects, and from a safety point of view, there is no proven system with an operational speed of 350km/h. 300km/h is much more reliable and I believe it is safer.”

Cost is a major issue once railways operate at more than 250km/h, as highly specialised infrastructure and systems are needed. “The additional cost is significant,” says Pierre Cherki, rail and infrastructure sector deputy director at US-based Hill International.

“They say for every 50km/h you go above 250km/h, there is a doubling of costs,” says Beek. “300km/h is fast enough. For 1,000km it is just over 3 hours, and although you will still have financial challenges, with 300km/h it is a proven system.”

The GCC’s first true high-speed railway is currently under construction. Saudi Arabia’s 450km Haramain high-speed link between Mecca and Medina through Jeddah has a design speed of 360km/h.