Giant Spain-Saudi desert rail project delayed yet again

A delayed high-speed railway linking Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia will finally open in March 2018, the Spanish consortium building the project said Friday.

Giant Spain-Saudi desert rail project delayed yet again
The project was one of the biggest ever undertaken by Spanish firms abroad. Photo: Pedro Armestre/AFP
The railway linking Islam's holiest cities was initially scheduled to open at the end of the year but the date for its completion was moved to the end of 2017.
Now, according to a spokesman for the Al-Shoula consortium, “full operations will start in March 2018.” Partial operations will begin a few months earlier, in December, he added.
Saudi Arabia in 2011 awarded the contract worth 6.7 billion euros ($7.1 billion) to the consortium of 12 Spanish companies and two Saudi firms for the project which aims to improve transport between the two cities during the
annual hajj pilgrimage.
According to the spokesman, Saudi authorities agreed to pay an extra 600 million riyals (150 million euros; $160 million) to compensate additional costs of the project.
The contract — one of the biggest Spanish firms have ever undertaken abroad — is for the laying of the 444 kilometres (275 miles) of track between Mecca and Medina, providing 35 trains and maintaining the line for 12 years.
When it is finished, the rail link will be able to move 166,000 passengers per day.
But the project has run into challenges that have added to its costs, leading to disagreements among members of the consortium over who is responsible for resolving them.
The rail line crosses the Arabian Desert, where sandstorms are frequent and large dunes can suddenly form, which has added to the difficulties in completing the project.
The leading firms in the consortium — Spain's rail company Renfe, train maker Talgo, and state track operator Adif — have extensive experience with Spain's own high-speed network, the world's second largest after China's.


King Juan Carlos under fire for meeting Saudi crown prince

Former Spanish King Juan Carlos was under fire Monday after a photo emerged of him meeting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has been tainted by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

King Juan Carlos under fire for meeting Saudi crown prince
The photo was posted on the Twitter account of the Saudi foreign ministry.

The photo, which was released on the Twitter account of the Saudi foreign ministry (@KSAmofaEN), was published in several Spanish newspapers.


#CrownPrince met with former King of #Spain, and #CrownPrince of #Dubai on the sidelines on of the final round of the World Formula 1 championship in #AbuDhabiGP #F1

— Foreign Ministry ?? (@KSAmofaEN) November 25, 2018


Conservative daily El Mundo ran it along with the headline: “The photo of shame”.

Far-left parties Podemos and Izquierda Unida which oppose the monarchy criticised the unexpected meeting between the former monarch and the de facto Saudi ruler at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday. 

 “It is humiliating Spain and Spaniards,” wrote Pablo Echinique, a leading member of Podemos, on Twitter.

Izquierda Unida leader Alberto Garzon questioned the Spanish royal family's friendships, saying on Twitter they are a “faithful reflection of an era that has to end”.

“The Spanish monarchy is a problem not just for the Spanish people as this photograph shows. It's not a simple photo, it is a symbol,” he added.   

Juan Carlos, 80, has long had close ties with the Saudi royal family which has helped Spain to land lucrative contracts in the oil-rich kingdom.   

He abdicated in 2014 after several scandals in favour of his son Felipe VI, who has tried to restore the monarchy's reputation.   

In an online article, El Mundo said the former monarch “is obliged to… have a vision of the state and a sense of opportunity. And right now it is not appropriate to be photographed with the Saudi crown prince.”

Saudi Arabia has faced intense global criticism over the killing of insider-turned-critic Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate on October 2nd.   

He was reportedly dismembered in what Saudi Arabia said was a “rogue” operation but CIA analysis leaked to the US media has pointed the finger at Prince Mohammed.

Riyadh has repeatedly and insistently rejected any suggestion the prince was connected to the killing.

READ MORE: Spanish PM defends selling arms to Saudi despite journalist's death