Without pilgrims This is how the AVE between Medina and Mecca managed by the Spanish consortium Al Shoula of which Renfe is part, responsible for operating the corridor. Last Wednesday, the Saudi government suspended the pilgrimages for the “umrah”, the minor pilgrimage to Mecca that can be done at any time of the year, to citizens and residents in the country, as well as visits to the Prophet’s Mosque, in Medina, for the appearance of coronavirus. A circumstance that will leave thousands of Muslims on land who use the high-speed train that connects both cities but will not have a great impact on Renfe’s accounts.
The Spanish operator began operating the corridor in October 2018 in what became known as the preoperation phase. This implies restrictions on the service, both of benefits and of days in operation, because there are still parts of the project that are not finished. Currently, the corridor continues to operate under these conditions, so, according to the agreement reached by the Spanish consortium with the client, the Saudi Railway Organization (SRO), Renfe is paid a fixed amount, in addition to a very small amount of each ticket he sells, which guarantees income.
In spite of the suspension of the pilgrimages, sources of the consortium have confirmed that, for the moment, the same services that had been programmed are maintained. However, the president of Renfe, Isaías Táboas, assured Efe yesterday that Arabia’s decision to suspend pilgrimages forces readjustments to adapt to the situation.
Negotiation in progress
Beyond the specific problem of the coronavirus, Táboas confirmed that the Spanish consortium is negotiating with Saudi Arabia adjustments in the plan of exploitation of the line because its construction is not finished yet. As a result of the delays in the finishing of some areas of the route, “it is not circulated in the operation phase every day, but only five a week, because during the other two we are still in the construction phase,” explained Táboas. It is circulated, he said, with fewer frequencies and trains than the client would have wanted, the Saudi Railway Organization (SRO), and Renfe, precisely because the construction is not over yet. All this is a “puzzle”, which “you have to handle, harmonizing two periods that are very different,” he said.
In addition, the fire that affected the Jeddah station in September, currently under reconstruction, “has hindered the plans of the Saudi authorities to operate the train commercially as soon as possible, which is what we all want: to leave the phase of construction and enter the operation, “insisted” Unfortunately “, it is the most important station by number of travelers of the entire line, so” it will mean some inconvenience in the implementation of the operation phase ” , added the head of Renfe “. In that context, we are talking with the client to see how the situation is addressed and how he wants to act, since” it is not the same to be building and just build, where you can do all the tests you want, to be building a few days and exploiting others, ”said Táboas.