Haramain train project nears completion

The Haramain train project has been developed for Saudi Railways by a number of European rail infrastructure companies and rolling stock producers to transport a significant share of the more than 11 million pilgrims that travel to and from the holy cities of Mecca and Madinah. To properly manage this large number of passengers, operators need to maximise seating capacity and offer a high service frequency. Once completed, the project will provide passengers with a view of the monumental architecture of Mecca and Madinah as they travel across the cities.

The train service was chosen as the best option to provide safe and comfortable travel for the pilgrims and to relieve the pressure on the roads connecting Mecca and Madinah. The project is expected to link a number of centres, boosting local businesses and tourism. An official opening date was announced for March 2018. In its first trip, the train departed from Mecca to Madinah via Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic city in Rabigh. The fares have not yet been revealed. The SAR 62 billion (USD 16.5 billion) rail project is due to be completed by the end of 2017 and will provide 35 passenger trains on two-way trips between Mecca and Madinah every half an hour. The Talgo 350 trains destined for the Haramain line are equipped with the most advanced safety systems. Other components of the project include high-speed trains fitted with the latest equipment and five ultra-modern passenger stations – one in Mecca, two in Jeddah, one at King Abdul Aziz International Airport and one in Madinah. Spanish rail passenger transport company will operate the 450km line from Mecca to Jeddah and Madinah. Renfe is a member of the Spanish Al-Shoula consortium, which is equipping the new line and will operate and maintain it for 12 years.

More than a dessert train

The railway was conceived as a passenger-dedicated line, and will be used only by the trains currently manufactured by Talgo, which has an option to supply 20 more. The trains have a maximum commercial speed of 300km/h. Each train will have 13 cars providing 417 seats, with a total length of 215 meters. It is double-track throughout as it will serve every major populated urban center in Western Arabia. Currently, only 10 kilometers of the line are functional, including 7 kilometers in Mecca and 3 kilometers in Jeddah’s Al-Harazat district. The 450 kilometers line is expected to cut travel between Mecca and Jeddah to 21 minutes, Jeddah to King Abdulaziz Airport to 14 minutes, King Abdulaziz Airport to Rabigh to 36 minutes and Rabigh to Madinah to 61 minutes. The project was originally due to open in 2012 but has been affected by delays and cost increases. In November 2016, it was announced that the Spanish consortium building the rail link had reached a preliminary deal with the Saudi government to finalise the works after the delays. Crossing the desert and meeting the massive demand of daily passengers who will be using the system, has been the most ambitious Spanish engineering project to date. Spain has the most extensive high speed train line in Europe and the second biggest in the world. It is a bench mark for the latest technology and leads the world in terms of speed and punctuality. The 20 years of experience has led the Spanish consortium to manage some of the most important railway projects in the world such as the high speed railway line between Makkah and Madinah. All the systems have been designed to take into account the extensive experience accumulated by Adif and Renfe on the Spanish high-speed rail network. Regardless of the challenges posed by the dessert heat and the moving sand, the fact is that where the track is already available trial running has been underway continuously for several months under real climatic conditions. The consortium’s contract, valued at EUR 6.7 billion (USD 7.11 billion), is expected to be extended to March 2018, that is 14 months later than originally planned. When the project was launched, the biggest obstacle to completing it on time was expected to be the experience of operating high-speed railways in temperate countries with the considerable challenge of running high-speed trains in one of the harshest climates in the world. This July, the Saudi Railways Organization (SRO) conducted the first complete trial run of the Haramain high-speed train from Jeddah to Madinah. “We are fully prepared for the official opening. Everything is in working order. The train will officially come into operation as soon as Saudi officials give us the green light,” Mariano De La Vega, project manager of Talgo explained. Nayef Fawaier, rolling stock liaison manager of the Haramain high-speed railway project of German DB (Mobility Networks Logistics), noted that Saudi Arabia is expecting to receive around 35 high-speed trains. “So far 11 trains have arrived and they are ready for operation”, Fawaier added. Reaching a speed of 330 km/h, the new train could cut travel time between the two Saudi cities in just 90 minutes. The new electric locomotive would save as much as two hours of the current travel time between Jeddah and Madinah. Saudi Railways Organization is currently conducting tests to check the compatibility of all components of the high-speed system.

by Elena Ilie

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