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Wednesday, 11 February 2009

China will build special railway for Muslim pilgrims in Saudi Arabia

China has signed a billion-pound contract to build a high-speed railway that will ferry pilgrims between Mecca and Medina.

Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, is currently in Riyadh on a three-day tour, during which the deal was announced.

A 230mph rail link between Mecca and Medina will cut the four to five hour-long car journey between Islam's two holiest cities to just half an hour.

In particular, the train will help alleviate congestion during the Hajj, the obligatory annual mass pilgrimage of three million worshippers to Mecca. In the past, the crush of worshippers has resulted in some pilgrims being trampled to death.

"This train will be able to rapidly evacuate the crowd at the peak of the Hajj," said Yang Honglin, the Chinese ambassador to Saudi Arabia, adding that the line will have a maximum capacity of five million people a year.

The railway will be built by China Railway Construction Corporation, together with a Saudia Arabian company and an unnamed French firm. The deal is said to be worth £1.2 billion and should be completed by 2013.

The Saudis contacted the Chinese last month, after deciding at the end of last year that they would spend Pounds3.6 billion on five light rail systems linking Hajj locations, including Mina and the Hill of Arafat.

It is the first time that the two countries have signed a major public works agreement, although Huawei, the giant Chinese telecommunications company, is already the largest supplier of communications during the Hajj. More