RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Turkey have reaffirmed their desire to restore and rebuild the historic Hejaz Railway that linked Damascus with the holy city of Madinah by a narrow-gauge rail line. The Hejaz rail line was used by pilgrims traveling from Istanbul to the Prophet’s Mosque via the Syrian capital.
“The plan envisages restoration and modernization of the railway line by the Turkish government within its territory, while it calls on Syria and Jordan to rebuild the tracks on their sides,” said Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim during a high-profile business meeting addressed by Turkish President Abdullah Gul here yesterday.
The plan, the first since the Six-Day War interrupted a similar project in 1967, would extend the reach of the railway to its original but never completed southernmost destination: Makkah. World War I put an end to the rail line shortly after its completion in 1913.
The new plan would, if completed as envisioned, connect Istanbul to Makkah. “On the Saudi side, they do have an ambitious plan to set up railway projects,” said Yildirim. “So, when these four countries (Turkey, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia) come together, the entire project would be completed.”
No time frame for the implementation of this multinational project was provided, though Yildirim speculated that it could be completed in five years. A contract to convert the narrow-gauge line to standard gauge was signed in Jordan last year, where a portion of the rail line is still in use in the south of the country. “This railroad project needs positive efforts by the countries involved,” said Shoura member Ihsan Ali Bu-Hulaiga. “It can be of great value and even link Arab countries with European states.”
Addressing the meeting of businessmen organized by the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry, which was also attended by Minister of Commerce and Industry Abdullah Zainal Alireza and Agriculture Minister Fahd Balghunaim, Gul said, “The Kingdom and Turkey, which share identical views on a range of political and commercial issues, must boost bilateral ties.”
Gul also witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between King Saud University and Istanbul Technical University and visited the King Abdulaziz City for Science & Technology yesterday.