Saudi Arabia, Haramain Consortium Members Argue Over Sand Removal

Saudi Arabia, Haramain Consortium Members Argue Over Sand Removal :The Haramain High Speed Rail linking the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, in Saudi Arabia, is probably the biggest international engineering challenge that Spanish firms have ever undertaken and for sure is meant to be a showcase for Spain’s High Speed Rail infrastructure and technology.

However, the project seems to be plagued by difficulties. The latest news, revealed on 7 March 2016 by Spanish site El Confidencial, is that the Arabian Desert sand is covering the new tracks and the consortium members are arguing over who should remove it. The phenomenon of moving sand dunes is very common in the area.
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Spanish construction and engineering company OHL, in a letter sent to its consortium partners and published by El Confidencial, stated that it was not “paid to clear the track of sand in order to facilitate the work of other consortium members” and that it was “very willing to carry out extra works to clear the tracks,” but only after an agreement with other consortium members is finalized, defining exactly what its responsibilities would be.

The consortium’s initial proposal included the construction of a wall of up to five meters in height along the 110 km section that is most vulnerable to sand. However, technicians instead decided to build the most exposed section of line on concrete, which is easier to clean sand off. Sources at the consortium stated that “it is easier to brush a cement slab clean of sand than it is to remove the stuff from between millions of tiny stones.”

Technicians from consortium member Ineco completed a report one year ago recommending that a wall is built along the line together with a ditch to drain sand. So far, these recommendations have not been implemented.

So the question remains, who’s going to sweep the sand every night?

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In the meantime, train maker Talgo intends to start test running its trains on the track soon.

In February 2016 ‘informed sources’ told the Saudi Gazette that “the Haramain High Speed Train, which is currently undergoing test runs between Madinah and Rabigh, will begin its trial run from the main station in Jeddah mid-year”. The sources also said that “work in the second stage of the project, which is being implemented by 12 Spanish companies, is going on smoothly and has been 90 % completed.”

Transport Minister Abdullah bin Abdulrahman al-Muqbel met with the Spanish consortium in December 2014 “and discussed with them the delays in some of the sites… and the delays in the supply of necessary equipment and trains,” stressing every effort must be made to complete the project according to plan. The Kingdom issued a ‘final warning’ at the time.

The 2016 deadline has remained unchanged, but delays in preliminary work by other contractors are stressing the project schedule and remain unacknowledged by Saudi authorities.

According to Spanish newspapers two sections, one 36 km long and the other 14 km long, are yet to be delivered by Sino-Saudi consortiums.

Last year Spanish companies went as far as stating that local company Bin Laden, responsible for Phase 1, benefits from delays because it runs a bus company that transports pilgrims from Medina to Mecca.

The Haramain High Speed Rail contract was awarded in 2011 to a Spanish consortium, with the objective of improving public transport connections between the two Saudi cities via the Red Sea port of Jeddah during the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Trains would run every ten minutes, 23 hours a day, with just one hour left for carrying out maintenance activities. They would carry up to half a million Muslim pilgrims each day for 444 km at a speed of 300km/h. The Spanish consortium will be responsible for operating and maintaining the line for seven years, a period that could be extended to 12.

Consortium members are:

Public companies Ineco, Adif and Renfe
Private companies Cobra (ACS), OHL, Indra, Consultrans, Copasa, Dimetronic, Imanthia, Inabensa and Talgo
Saudi firms Al Shoula and Al Rosan

According to one consortium board member “this consortium can be frustrating sometimes, because everything gets out. Journalists ask questions, and people like to talk, and there are 12 of us. That is a lot of people to manage. A secret between 12 people isn’t a secret.” During a December 2014 meeting Pablo Vázquez, the CEO of Spanish state railway company Renfe, suggested imposing a €500,000 fine on companies that talked to the media off-the-record. The idea was discarded.

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Writer: John Carlo Ottaviani

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