Makkah-Madinah high-speed rail link to open in March 2018

When it is finished, the rail link will be able to move 166,000 passengers per day.
Updated 19 November 2016
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Makkah-Madinah high-speed rail link to open in March 2018

MADRID: A delayed high-speed railway linking Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia will finally open in March 2018, the Spanish consortium building the project said Friday.
 
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 Haj pilgrimage.
 
According to the spokesman, Saudi authorities agreed to pay an extra SR600 million (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 km of track between Makkah and Madinah, 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.


China’s Xi promotes building initiative amid debt worries

Updated 50 min 42 sec ago
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China’s Xi promotes building initiative amid debt worries

  • Xi says Beijing wants “open, green and clean cooperation” with “zero tolerance for corruption”
  • High costs have prompted complaints some are falling into a “debt trap”
BEIJING: President Xi Jinping has promised to set high standards for China’s Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative, seeking to dispel complaints the many billion dollars in projects leave developing countries with too much debt.
Xi avoided mentioning debt complaints in a speech opening a forum attended by leaders from some three dozen countries to celebrate his signature foreign initiative. But he said Beijing wants “open, green and clean cooperation” with “zero tolerance for corruption.”
Developing countries welcome the initiative to expand trade by building roads, ports and other facilities across Asia and Africa to Europe. But high costs have prompted complaints some are falling into a “debt trap.”
The United States, Russia, Japan and India also worry Beijing is trying to build a trade and political network centered on China and expand its strategic influence at their expense.
Xi’s government is trying to revive the initiative’s momentum after the number of new projects plunged last year. That came after Chinese officials said state-owned banks would step up scrutiny of borrowers and some governments complained projects do too little for their economies and might give Beijing too much political sway.
Countries including Malaysia and Thailand have canceled or scaled back projects while Ethiopia and others have renegotiated debt repayment.
Xi noted China’s finance ministry on Thursday issued guidelines for assessing debt risks for borrowers. The ministry said those “debt sustainability guidelines” are based on the standards of the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions.
The president tried to allay complaints about lack of economic benefits and political influence, saying Belt and Road is “not an exclusive club” and promotes “common development and prosperity.”
“We need to pursue open, green and clean cooperation,” Xi said. “Everything should be done in a transparent way and we should have zero tolerance for corruption.”
His audience at a Beijing conference center included Prime Ministers Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, Lee Hsien-Loong of Singapore and Adiy Ahmed of Ethiopia and leaders or envoys from Greece, Serbia and Malaysia.
Xi said Beijing also wants to expand the scope of its initiative by encouraging cooperation among Belt and Road countries on health, water resources, agriculture and science and technology. He promised to fund scholarships for students from Belt and Road countries.