Saudi Arabia conducts second high-speed rail test

19 October 2017
Commercial operation of 453km Haramain high-speed rail is expected to commence in early 2018

Saudi Railways Organisation (SRO) has completed the second test run of a train on the 453km Haramain high-speed rail scheme, which links the holy cities of Medina and Mecca.

The train completed the 72km test run from Jeddah to its terminus in Mecca on 17 October.

In June, Spanish trains supplier Talgo completed a test run on the longer segment of the rail that extends from King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) station to the terminus in Medina. The Talgo 350 train reached a speed of 310 kilometres per hour (kph) during that test run, exceeding maximum commercial operating speed of 300kph for the first time. The trains on the Haramain rail are expected to reach a maximum speed of 330kph.

The kingdom’s first high-speed rail will have five stations including the two terminus in Mecca and Medina. The other three stations are located in KAEC, the King Abdulaziz International airport and Jeddah. The line is expected to begin commercial operations in early 2018.

An estimated 10 million annual visitors to the kingdom’s holy sites are expected to use the rail service starting next year.

Talgo, whose contract to supply 36 trains was cancelled and then reinstated by SRO in 2016, said in June that “dynamic testing is proceeding satisfactorily in extreme environmental conditions, with outside temperatures of up to 50oC and windblown sand.”The firm said the trains are equipped with a desert pack that  include “a certified thermal resistance of up to 50oC and an auxiliary power supply which is capable of keeping the air-conditioning system operational for more than two hours in the event of an overhead electrification failure.”

The trains are also equipped with blowers positioned close to the wheels to clear sand off the track as well as positive atmospheric pressure, military-grade air filters, reinforced door seals to prevent dust ingress, and polyurethane sheeting on the driving cab windows to reduce wear from blowing sand.

Contracts to build the railway were awarded between 2009 and 2011. The scheme has faced delays in the past couple of years. In April 2015, MEED reported that SRO had warned the Saudi/Spanish consortium Al-Shoula Group, which won the $8.4bn contract for phase 2 of the project in 2011, that it could be removed from the project if delays continued to slow progress.

However, following a formal arbitration, the SRO agreed in late 2016 to compensate the Al-Shoula consortium €150m ($158m) for additional costs arising from delays and pledged to bring its payments to the railway consortium up to date.

The preliminary agreement, which was approved by the Saudi government in early 2017, resulted in a revised timescale. The completion of the project had been put back by around 14 months from January 2017 to the first quarter of 2018.

Spanish companies that are part of the Al-Shoula consortium include:

  • Adif / Renfe: 12-year operation and maintenance
  • OHL / Copasa / Imathia: Track construction and maintenance
  • Inabensa / Cobra: electrification and electro-mechanical equipment
  • Talgo: rolling stock
  • Dimetronic (recently acquired by Siemens): signalling
  • Indra: ancillary and control systems including intrusion detection and ticketing
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