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It is currently under construction and, once finished in the fourth quarter of 2014, will reduce road traffic to Mecca and Medina, especially during the busy Hajj pilgrimage season. The volume of people travelling to the holy cities has continued to rise in recent years, with more than 3 million Hajj pilgrims visiting Saudi Arabia in 2012.
Trains will stop at up to seven stations along the route, including two in Mecca, two in Jeddah (at the airport and in the city centre), one in Rabigh and one in Medina, about 3km from the Holy Mosque. Up to 100 trains a day will run on the line.
Journey times for the 72km Jeddah-Mecca route will be 30 minutes, while the 372km Jeddah-Medina section will take two hours.
The project comprises two phases, the first of which has been awarded in two packages: one for the civil works and the other covering the construction of stations. Al-Rajhi Alliance won the $1.8bn civil works contract in 2009. Led by the local Al-Rajhi Construction, the consortium includes the local MADA Group, Saud Consult, Masco and Al-Arrab Contracting Company; Frances Alstom Transport; the UKs Eurostar and Arup; and China Railway Engineering Corporation.
In 2011, the second package, covering the construction of four stations in Mecca, Medina, Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic City, was awarded to two consortiums led by Saudi Binladin Group and Saudi Oger.
Saudi Binladin Group, in a joint venture with Turkeys Yapi Merkezi, won the contract to build passenger stations at Mecca and Medina, while Saudi Oger will build the stations at Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic City.
Phase 2 comprises the construction of the railway tracks, installation of signalling and telecommunication systems, electrification, construction of the operational control centre, the procurement of 35 trains and the operation and maintenance of the railway.
Major phase 2 contracts were awarded in 2011, with a consortium led by local firm Al-Shoula Group signing a $7.9bn deal for the rolling stock and systems. The other members of the group include six Spanish companies: Talgo, Indra, OHL, Dimetronic, Renfe and Adif.
In 2012, Al-Shoula secured a loan of SR3.04bn ($810m) from a group of six Spanish banks to help finance phase 2 of the project, covering the supply of rolling stock and systems. The financing, which is in the form of advance and performance bonds, was partly guaranteed by the Spanish export credit agency Cesce and the Official Credit Institute of Spain.
In August 2013, Indian firm Tata Steel won a contract to supply 60,000 tonnes of rail. Steel for the scheme will be made at Tata Steels Scunthorpe plant in the UK, before being rolled into rail, in lengths of 25 metres, both onsite and at the firms plant in Hayange in northern France.
The new rail line is set to open to the public in late 2014 or early 2015.
2002: Haramain rail project approved
FEB 2009: $1.8bn civil works package for phase 1 awarded to Al-Rajhi Alliance consortium
Apr 2009: The UKs Foster + Partners and Buro Happold win $38m design contract for four stations
Feb 2010: UK-based Scott Wilson wins $24m project management consultancy contract
Feb 2011: Saudi Binladin Group and Turkeys Yapi Merkezi awarded phase 1 construction contract worth $1.2bn
Oct 2011: Spanish consortium led by the local Al-Shoula wins $7.9bn deal for railway systems and rolling stock under phase 2
2014: Project due for completion
Sources: MEED, MEED Projects