As announced in our previous bulletin, a consortium led by Renfe Operadora has won the tender called by the Saudi Arabian Government in 2006 for the construction and operation of a high speed line between Mecca and Medina, the two holy cities of Islam, which will be used by an estimated 166,000 passengers per day.
(15/11/2011) Worth around seven billion Euros, this is the biggest foreign contract ever awarded to Spanish companies, who will be responsible for operating the high speed line linking the two holy cities of Islam over a period of 12 years.
Once the 444-kilometre line has entered into operation, it is estimated that up to 11 million practicing Muslims will use it to make the two annual Islamic pilgrimages, Hajj and Umrah. Spain was competing against another finalist, the French consortium.
Al Rajhi Alliance, which included the French National Railway Company (SNCF) and Alstom, as well as a Saudi construction firm, following the elimination of three other groups, one from Europe (Saudi Bin Ladin Group, which included Siemens and DB), and two from Asia (Badr Consortium, of Japanese and Korean origin, and CSR Consortium, led by China CNR Corporation Limited).
The Spanish consortium comprises 12 companies. The state-owned enterprises control 49.87% of the capital, the largest stake being held by Renfe Operadora, with 26.9%, followed by Adif with 21.5% and Ineco with 1.47%. The remaining 50.13% of the capital is divided among the private corporations, namely Talgo (17.5%), the construction firm OHL (6.21%), Dimetronic (5.18%), Indra (4.63%), Copasa (6.76%), Cobra (5.30%), Inabensa (1.40%), Imathia (2.21%), and Consultrans (0.94%).
Following the award, the parties agreed to formally incorporate a Saudi company in which the Spanish companies will have a collective stake of 88%, the remaining 12% corresponding to the Saudi partners, Al Shoula and the local construction firm Al-Rosan (7% and 5%, respectively).
The Spanish consortium will be in charge of the second phase of the project, which includes the superstructure, i.e. track-laying, overhead power cable and signalling; the rolling stock; and the operation and maintenance of the system over a period of 12 years, under a “turnkey” formula.
The high speed line between Mecca and Medina will be 450 kilometres long (including the branch line to Jeddah airport) and suitable for speeds of up to 300 km/h. It will also incorporate the ERTMS Level 2 traffic regulation system.
The line will have five stations –Mecca, Jeddah, Jeddah Airport, KAEC (King Abdullah Economic City) and Medina–, and the possibility of adding two more stations is being considered: one in a university town and another in a complex called Sports City, situated in the middle of the desert.
Constructing a high speed line in the desert, where temperatures range from 0 to 50 degrees, is especially difficult from a technical point of view, sand being one of the main potential problems. Indeed, there are two areas (located between kilometres 17.5 and 39, and between kilometres 147 and 227) which could pose problems in this respect, and therefore slab track will be laid on the most problematic stretches –some 30 kilometres–, with walls on either side to keep sand off the track.
As regards the estimated demand, the line is expected to serve 166,000 passengers a day, with annual peaks of 80,000. The number of passengers would total 74 million in the first year of operation, and more than one billion during the contractual term of 12 years, according to the estimates of the Saudi authorities.
According to Renfe’s spokespersons, this contract award is unprecedented, given that no rail operator has ever participated in such a large-scale foreign project. Moreover, the contract could open the door to other projects in the Middle East.
The initial rolling stock order consists of 35 electric trains, which Talgo will manufacture entirely in Spain, with an option to purchase 23 more. The trains are based on the Talgo 350 model, Renfe class 112, which has already been successfully tried and tested in the demanding Spanish high speed market and will be specially adapted to the local operating conditions.
Talgo will also be responsible for the integral maintenance of the trains during an initial 12-year period. Each train will be formed of 13 coaches and two power cars, with a total seating capacity of between 400 and 500.
Given the climatic conditions of the desert, all the trains will be equipped with powerful air-conditioning systems and will be fully sealed to prevent sand from entering.
Furthermore, the air-conditioning will continue to function, even in the event of a power cut, for as long as it takes to complete any passenger evacuation procedure that may be required. The trains, whose sumptuous design has been carefully tailored to Arab tastes, offer three classes: first, business and economy.
One of the stipulations in the tender refers to a VIP train set for the King and his entourage. Like all the others, it will be formed of 13 coaches, albeit with a considerably more lavish interior decor featuring plentiful gold leaf, especially on the ceilings.
This special train will also have an audience chamber, a bedroom, two suites for special guests, a dining lounge, and meeting rooms. The VIP train will have a capacity for 20 or 30 people, as well as a hybrid power supply to avoid problems in the event of a power cut. It will be able to run on the high speed line or on other conventional lines.
In the first phase, Renfe will help to design the interior decor and, subject to finalizing details with Talgo, may also participate in the train manufacturing process, which could be carried out at its Los Prados workshop in Málaga in southern Spain.
As far as operation is concerned, a total of five trains per hour will arrive at or depart from Mecca. Renfe will also undertake the design and construction of three workshops: a first-level maintenance workshop in Mecca, a second-level maintenance workshop at kilometre 125 of the line, and an engine shed in Medina.
It will also supply two relief vehicles and a workshop train, which the Spanish operator will put out to tender. Renfe will also participate in the training of engine drivers, on-board crew members and station personnel.