Haramain High-Speed Rail

Saudi Arabia

The Haramain High-Speed Rail network is an iconic project for Saudi Arabia. It will create a 450 km link between the cities of Mecca and Medina, with through stations in Jeddah and the new King Abdullah Economic City, and in doing so establish better connections for pilgrims on the Hajj and between the Kingdom’s main business centres.

Buro Happold worked in a joint venture with Foster + Partners to design and deliver this major new infrastructure route.


The two main challenges we faced were the incredible pace of the design process – which at times saw our engineers transform concepts into workable designs within 48 hours – and the requirement to devise modular solutions that could be applied across all four stations.

Haramain High Speed Rail
We developed elegant and efficient modular designs, which include structural trees that support the roof while also providing a conduit for MEP and stormwater drainage. Image: Foster + Partners


By understanding not only the architectural ambition, but also Saudi Railways’ operational aspects, we were able to drive forward additional efficiencies. For example, advising our client to open the platforms just 10 minutes before each train is due, we were able to revise the architect’s original concept of glazed station platforms to the far more cost effective solution of covering them with a lightweight, tensile fabric canopy. This negated the extensive cooling that would have been required to keep the platforms at an acceptable temperature in the searing 40°C heat of the Saudi climate, by instead providing adequate shade for passengers on the platforms.

In addition to this shading, we created transition zones within each station that eliminate risk of thermal shock by buffering the change in temperature between various areas.

To place this concept in context, a typical passenger journey would comprise of entering into a retail area that is kept at a cool 18°C, and then passing through to the slightly warmer 24°C of the main station concourse. From there, they would travel down towards the platforms, passing through a semi-external space where Arabic screens provide shading and maintain a temperature of 30°C, before arriving on the platform for a short wait before boarding their train.

When it came to developing a modular building services strategy, we created ‘families’ that could be adapted to suit both the hot and humid climate of coastal Jeddah and KAEC, and the arid conditions of inland Mecca and Medina. This allowed us to use the same elements – such as shading louvers and chillers – across all four stations, and simply increase or decrease their number according to requirements.

Phil Lines, Director at Buro Happold

To achieve further efficiencies, every element in our modular design served a dual function. To draw on one example, the elegant roof structures – which reference traditional Islamic architecture – are aesthetically pleasing, structurally vital, and also serve as conduits for building services and stormwater drainage.

We also set ourselves a third challenge to deliver an exceptional passenger experience, on which the ultimate success of the project will hinge.


This intelligent modular approach created an efficient design language across the stations, while also allowing enough flexibility to achieve a distinct visual character in each. When complete, each station on the Haramain High-Speed Rail line will combine inspirational architecture with the ability to deliver a world class experience for the 3 million passengers that will pass through them each year.

Haramain High Speed Rail
Establishing vital cultural and commercial connections across Saudi Arabia with the Haramain High-Speed Rail network. Image: Foster + Partners

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