The short history of the Hijaz Railway in Saudi Arabia

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Hijaz Railway station in Al-Ula. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Hijaz Railway station in Al-Ula. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Hijaz Railway station in Al-Ula. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Hijaz Railway station in Al-Ula. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 04 April 2019
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The short history of the Hijaz Railway in Saudi Arabia

  • Volcanic rock was used as building materials for the stations and bridges between Al-Ula and Madinah
  • The railway station in Al-Madinah was also illuminated on this occasion, the first use of electricity in Madinah

JEDDAH: The line that was built from Damascus, Syria, to Madinah, Saudi Arabia, is a fascinating part of Hijazi history.
Sultan Abdul Hamid II put great effort into modernizing transportation and communication during the Ottoman Empire. He laid telegraph lines and railways to connect Ottoman villages and built the Hijaz Railway to connect Damascus with Madinah.
The line was built to meet the needs of pilgrims traveling to Makkah. Its construction took eight years. The first stage of the project from Damascus to Daraa began in September, 1900, and the first train reached Madinah in August 1908. The work was carried out by German and Turkish engineers and local workers recruited from the areas along the route.
The sultan planned to extend the railway on to Makkah and down the Red Sea coast to Yemen, but plans to extend the Hijaz Railway were disrupted by World War One (1914-1918).
The terrain between Tabuk and Madinah presented many challenges. One portion of Al-Akhdar valley required the building of both a tunnel and a 143-meter long bridge, the longest bridge in Saudi Arabia. In Al-Muazzam area high rubble landfills were used to lessen the steep angle of the track.
Small stations, all of the same design, were built along the line between Al-Ula and Hadiyya, where a mid-sized station was built and supplied with water. As the line approached Madinah the stations grew larger, such as at Istabl Antar.
Volcanic rock was used as building materials for the stations and bridges between Al-Ula and Madinah.
On Sept. 1, 1906, a ceremony was held in Tabuk to mark the arrival of the railway line. It was attended by an official delegation from Damascus, as well as sheikhs of tribes, nobles and merchants. One year later, a ceremony was held to mark the line reaching Al-Ula.
On August 22, 1908, the first train arrived in Madinah. The official ceremony was postponed until Dec. 1st to coincide with the anniversary of the accession of the sultan, and a grand ceremony was held to mark both events.
The railway station in Al-Madinah was also illuminated on this occasion, the first use of electricity in Madinah.
After 1918, the Arabs attempted to reopen the railway.
The train arrived in Madinah twice, once in 1919 and again in 1925. A lack of material and technical skills stopped the railway in Hijaz from working again. The Hijazi portion of the line is defunct, but the Syrian, Palestinian and Jordanian sections have remained in service locally.


Houthi threat to holy sites in Makkah condemned

Updated 21 May 2019
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Houthi threat to holy sites in Makkah condemned

  • Iran-backed militias have no qualms about attacking the holiest place in Islam, says analyst
  • This is not the first time that Houthi militias have targeted Makkah, having fired on the city in July 2017

JEDDAH: The Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces intercepted and destroyed two missiles launched from Yemen by Iran-aligned Houthi militias on Monday. 

The missiles were reported to have been heading toward Makkah and Jeddah. 

A spokesman for the Arab Coalition said that the missiles were destroyed over Taif in the early morning, and that fragments from the first projectile had landed in Wadi Jalil, a valley that extends toward Makkah.

Residents in Jeddah told Arab News that they heard a loud blast early on Monday morning.

This is not the first time that Houthi militias have targeted Makkah, having fired on the city in July 2017.

Videos circulating on social media reportedly show the second missile being intercepted and destroyed in the skies over King Abdulaziz International Airport.

Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry denounced the Houthi attack and commended the Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces for their vigilance. 

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Riyadh-based Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, said: “This isn’t the first time that the Houthis and their masters in Tehran have fired missiles close to the holy city of Makkah.” 

They have no qualms about attacking the holiest place in Islam, he added. 

“They care nothing for the sanctity of the holy month of Ramadan. What they did today, and what they did in the past, clearly reveal their sinister designs to strike at the heart of the Muslim world,” Al-Shehri said.

“Now is the time for all Muslim nations in the world to come to the defense of the holy land. Our sacred places are under attack from Iran, the Houthis and their militias,” he added.

“Mere condemnation won’t do. Iran and the Houthis have crossed a red line, and this calls for deterrent action against Tehran,” he said.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government also condemned the Houthis’ attempt to target Makkah, calling it “a full-fledged terrorist attack.”

Monday’s aggression came as Saudi Arabia warned that recent drone attacks against its oil-pumping stations by the Houthis will jeopardize UN peace efforts in Yemen and lead to further escalation in the region.

Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi ambassador to the UN, said “seven explosive drones” directed by the Houthis attacked pumping stations on May 14 in the cities of Dawadmi and Afif “on the east-west oil pipeline that transfers Saudi oil to Yanbu port and to the rest of the world.”

He urged UN Security Council members, in a letter circulated on Monday, “to disarm this terrorist militia in order to prevent the escalation of these attacks which increase regional tensions and raise the risks of a broader regional confrontation.”

Al-Shehri said Monday’s attack is a reminder to Muslim nations about the clear and present danger from Iran.  “Tehran timed the attack just as King Salman has called for a meeting in Makkah to discuss the threat from Iran to the Muslim world,” Al-Shehri said.

Saudi security forces have intercepted and destroyed 227 ballistic missiles launched by the Houthis at the Kingdom since 2015.