HAVING postponed a number of official journeys overseas due to the fact that there was only an interim government in place, King Felipe VI is now due to travel to Saudi Arabia between November 12 and 14 ostensibly to discuss the situation with regards to the construction of the Medina to Mecca high speed train line which is due to open at the beginning of 2017.
When a consortium of Spanish businesses including OHL, Talgo, Adif and RENFE won this contract worth more than €6 billion after much lobbying by the government and former King Juan Carlos, this seemed like a shot in the arm for Spanish business and prestige, but all of the planners overlooked one little problem that any British train expert could have warned them about – sand on the rails!
In a country that is covered in sand, which often blows around, when it settles on rails, especially those laid on ballast which settles and shifts, the performance on the trains is reduced and in some cases they simply don’t run.
There are containment walls but they are not actually stopping the sand and it is estimated that it could cost as much as €1.5 billion to fix the problem so the consortium is hoping that the Saudi’s will agree to pay this despite the fact that the contract allows for no overruns and includes a €1 million a day penalty for any delay in operating the trains over the 125 kilometre distance between the two cities, hence the visit from the king.
Also up for discussion is the provision of five corvettes for the Saudi Navy at a cost of €3 billion which are to be produced by the Spanish company Navantia and if the previously agreed contract is signed during this visit it will guarantee work for 2,000 staff over a five year period in two of the company’s Spanish yards.
This deal has not been without criticism due to the actions of Saudi Arabia in Yemen but the potential financial gain for the country is too much to ignore, assuming that the Saudi’s still have enough money to pay for the corvettes.