Spanish firms may ask for more time to finish Saudi high-speed railway

Saudi awarded the contract in 2011 worth $7.5 bln to consortium of 12 Spanish companies and two Saudi firms

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A Spanish consortium building a high-speed railway linking Makkah and Madinah may ask Saudi Arabia to push back the deadline to complete the project to the end of 2018, a consortium source said on Wednesday.

The high-speed railway linking Islam’s holiest cities was initially scheduled to open at the end of 2016 but the date for its completion has already been moved to the end of 2017.

The consortium will decide if it will ask Saudi Arabia for permission to give it until the end of 2018 to finish the project at a meeting to be held before the end of September, a consortium source said, confirming a report in Spanish business daily Expansion.

Saudi Arabia in 2011 awarded the contract worth $7.5 billion (6.7 billion euros) to the consortium of 12 Spanish companies and two Saudi firms for the project which aims to improve transport connections between the two cities during the annual hajj pilgrimage.

Major contract

The contract -- one of the biggest Spanish firms have ever undertaken abroad -- is for laying the 444 kilometers (275 miles) of track between Makkah and Madinah as well as 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 challenge of completing the project.

The leading firms in the consortium -- 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.

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