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Saudi Arabia promises to pay arrears to Spanish consortium building high-speed rail link

Showcase project has been plagued by delays and technical problems

Work underway on the high-speed link between Medina and Mecca.
Work underway on the high-speed link between Medina and Mecca.

Saudi Arabia has given the Spanish consortium building the high-speed rail link between Medina and Mecca a further 14 months to complete work, as well as promising to make payments to contractors following complaints over delays, Industry Minister Ana Pastor explained on Tuesday.

Pastor’s comments came after a visit to Riyadh by Pablo Vázquez, the president of state rail company RENFE, which is part of the Spanish consortium, where he met with representatives of Saudi Railways Organization following the replacement of the transport minister in a Cabinet reshuffle.

On Monday, representatives of the Spanish consortium said that the Saudi government was “two to three months” in arrears.

The Medina-Mecca train line was scheduled to be inaugurated on Jan 1, 2017

The Medina-Mecca train line was scheduled to be inaugurated on Jan 1, 2017. If the €6.7 billion project is not ready by then, the original contract required the consortium to pay €1 million for each day it runs over the deadline.

What was originally meant to be a showcase for Spain’s mastery of high-speed rail infrastructure has been hit by political intrigue, delays, and technical problems, particularly how to keep sand off the tracks. Large sections of track have been built with ballasted track, the cheapest method for building rail lines, but which is susceptible to wear and tear and even track failure in desert areas.

In March, the Spanish consortium requested a minimum of $1.4 billion from the Saudi government to “unforeseeable demands,” such as keeping sand off the route.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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