SAUDI ARABIA: An inaugural train ran between Madinah and Makkah over the Haramain high speed railway on December 31. Completing the 450 km trip in 2 h 52 min, the train conveyed Saudi Transport Minister Dr Nabil bin Mohammed Al-Amoudi and Spanish Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Álvaro Iranzo, along with executives from the Al Shoula consortium which won the €6·7bn railway systems contract to equip and operate the line.

Marking the start of a demonstration phase which will see trains run between Madinah and Makkah on Fridays and Saturdays until the planned start of commercial services in mid-March 2018, the inaugural trip fulfilled a commitment by the Al Shoula consortium to commence initial operations before the end of 2017. This formed part of the deal ratified in January 2017 between the Saudi Arabian authorities and the consortium that set a revised timescale for completion of the project.

Doubts had persisted until late December about whether the inaugural run could take place, not least because the stations at Jeddah and Makkah are far from complete. In the event temporary facilities were provided. During the run the Talgo 350 trainset reportedly exceeded 300 km/h on some sections of the line.

Under the Al Shoula contract Spanish national operator RENFE is expected to run the service for 12 years.