Impressive Infrastructure: the Haramain High Speed Rail

February 12, 2018 in Infrastructure, Transport

The Haramain High Speed Rail (HHR) is a major transportation infrastructure project for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The 450km long rail network will use high speed trains (travelling at 330kph) to connect the cities of Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah and the developing King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC). Altogether, the stations will cover an area more than 30 times the size of London’s Trafalgar Square.

With the number of pilgrims performing Hajj or Umrah in constant growth, the HHR intercity project is considered a national priority. The line will become a fast and safe alternative to the congested roads between the cities. It will reduce the pollution caused by vehicle exhausts, having a positive impact on the environment. Initially, the network will accommodate up to 60 million passengers, but this figure is expected to increase to 135 million by 2042.  

Talgo is providing 35 trains capable of carrying more than 400 passengers each. The carriages are currently undergoing extreme weather testing to ensure they can withstand temperatures of above 50°, as well as desert sands and dust.

Once the network is completed and the carriages are in order, two trains will link Mecca and Medina every day. Other trains will serve smaller parts of the track to Jeddah and KAEC, serving 160,000 passengers daily, and more than 50 million annually. A special service pattern will be in place during the season of Hajj in order to accommodate more than 3 million pilgrims.

The HHR is one of the most demonstrative projects in the country when it comes to the expansion of the national railway network, and as much attention has been given to aesthetics and design as it has to engineering and functionality. The rail stations vary greatly in colour. Different colour schemes have been used for each station, but all the colours are emblematic of the HHR system. The terminal stations of Medina and Makkah have been characterised by a rich colour palette; Makkah Station references the gold leaf of the decorated Kab’ah and the city’s significance as a holy site, while Madinah Station uses vivid green: an inspiration from the Mosque of the Prophet. Jeddah Station features a shade of purple which has a particular resonance with the city, and lastly, KAEC’s station is a futuristic blue and silver to represent its role as a new modern city.

Drawing on Islamic architecture, the stations use traditional gateway arches to form the basis for their roof design. This design, common to all stations, features a sequence of 25-metre-high arches rising from the concourse, which have been complemented by 9-metre-high arches at platform level. The arches are supported by freestanding structural trees, and are repeated on a 27-metre square grid. Each arch connects at the top to form a vaulted but flexible roof.

The stations have a combination of different facades according to their orientation. There is great variation here, which hinges upon on each station’s individual needs. For example, solid facades are only used where visibility is not essential, in order to reduce solar gain. This will not be the case for every platform. Each station is oriented according to the path of the sun, turning from Madinah Station, which faces east, to north-facing Makkah Station. Their changing positions are well articulated by openings in the roof. Here, light tubes will draw daylight down to the concourse level to animate the appearance of the space. The glazed entrances to the concourse and the platforms will be concealed behind a combination of external mashrabiya and the deep overhanging roof canopies. At night, spotlights between the perforations give the impression of stars in a night sky. Spherical chandeliers, suspended between the arches, are being used to provide some focused lighting.

Passengers will be able to navigate the stations intuitively by following the direction of the trains. Several level changes and some interior spaces have been added to the network to keep the passengers out the way of the desert heat. In addition, many of the stations have added high quality terminals, which will feature cafes, shops, and restaurants, as well as mosques and VIP lounges.

Designs for the project were completed in 2009 with contracts worth €6.7 billion (Dh28.4bn). The contracts were signed in 2011 with the Saudi-Spanish consortium that has been responsible for the build work since.

On June 4, 2002, the Supreme Economic Council approved the construction of the HHR. The same resolution stated that the project would be implemented on a build, operate, and transfer (BOT) basis, which implied the participation of the private sector. A Council of Ministers Resolution established that the state-owned Public Investment Fund (PIF) would finance the project through interest-free loans.

The project was supposed to be completed under a three-year fast-track contract, but it faced a number of delays. However, in November 2016, the Spanish Government’s Minister for public works, Inigo de la Segna, said that a new deal would move the project back on track. It is now expected to be completed this year, with Phase I Package I and Phase I Package 2 already finished.

The design and construction contract for Phase I Package 1 – Civil Works for the project was awarded in March 2009 to Al Rajhi Alliance, which comprises China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC), Al Arrab Contracting Company Ltd, Al Suwailem Company and the French power and rolling stock company Alstom Transport. It cooperated with the consultant Saudi Consolidated Engineering Company (Khatib & Alami – K&A). Scott Wilson Group provided project management support.

Phase I Package 2 covers construction of four of the five stations. In April 2009, $38 million worth of design contracts for the stations in Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah and King Abdul Aziz Airport were awarded to a joint venture between Foster + Partners and Buro Happold. In February 2011 the station construction contracts were awarded to Joint Venture between Saudi Oger Ltd & El Seif Engineering for (KAEC (Rabigh) & Jeddah Stations), Saudi Bin laden (Makkah Station) and a Turkish Company “Yapi Merkezi” for Madinah Station.

Phase 2 of the project includes the remaining infrastructure not included in Phase-1. This includes the track, signalling, telecommunications, power and electrification of the rail line. It also includes procurement of rolling stock and operations and maintenance for a period of 12 years after completion.

Prequalified consortia for HHR Phase 2 included Saudi Binladin Group, Badr Consortium, China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock, Al-Shoula Group and Al-Rajhi Alliance.

On 26 October 2011, at the Saudi Railways Organization announced that the Saudi-Spanish consortium Al‑Shoula Group, which includes Talgo, Renfe, Adif, Copasa, Imathia, Consultrans, Ineco, Cobra, Indra, Dimetronic, Inabensa, OHL, AL-Shoula and Al-Rosan, had been chosen for the contract.

Fahd Al Rasheed, the managing director and group chief executive of KAEC, welcomed the rail project’s progress, stating that it has “long been integral” to his city’s master plan, making KAEC accessible to a catchment of 10 million people along the kingdom’s west coast.

Mr. Rasheed said the trains would place KAEC within an hour’s travel of both Mecca and Medina, and it would be just 25 minutes from the upgraded airport in Jeddah.

He told The National that the station at KAEC “is ready for operation and will act as a key transportation node to drive our commercial and leisure developments”, as well as anchoring the city’s main commercial district. He said:

“The Haramain railway will supercharge KAEC’s growth as a premium residential, commercial and lifestyle destination.”

In many ways, the Haramain High Speed railway is an admirable bi-product of Saudi Arabia’s sustained efforts with public transport. Although it is not the only rail network project in development, it is undeniably ambitious and important. From the 330km speed trains to the majestic artistry of the stations, Haramain delivers a statement. It is safe to say that as long as the country is seeing an increase in population and tourism, great projects like the Haramain High Speed Rail will be put in place.