Chinese firms involved in the construction of the Haramain Express, the world’s first desert high-speed railway, have helped to establish China as Saudi Arabia’s strongest ally, thereby replacing the United States.
It is a sight to behold when a long-nosed javelin in white and gold zips through a desert at 300 km/h. The 450-kilometer electric railway, Haramain Express (which means two sanctuaries in Arabic), is designed to carry 60 million passengers a year, including millions of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims, through its 35 trains.
Built by China Railway 18th Bureau Group, Chinese firms are at the forefront of railway construction in the broader Middle East region as many countries boost their spending on creating new or upgrading existing rail infrastructure.
Using electric propulsion that will drive the trains to an operating speed of 300 kilometers per hour, the express train is expected to cut travel time between Mecca and Madinah to under two hours instead of six hours by bus.
The train is the largest transportation project in the Middle East and one of the world’s most significant public transportation projects.
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Haramain Express is the first double-track electrified high-speed railway in Saudi Arabia and the world’s first desert high-speed railway to have Chinese companies involved in its construction. The high-speed railway has brought a new experience of traveling on land in Saudi Arabia.
The rail, the first railway built by a Chinese company in the Middle East, is aimed at easing traffic congestion on the road during the Hajj and providing a convenient transportation option for pilgrims as it links three main Hajj destinations.
The trains, among the world’s top 10 fastest, are just the beginning of a rail network expected to expand across the Middle Eastern Kingdom as it invests billions in infrastructure to boost tourism and diversify revenues beyond oil.
Besides the Haramain Express project, China is also involved in Saudi Arabia’s signature $500 billion mega-city project, NEOM. China and Saudi Arabia recently set up a $20 billion investment fund to link Saudi Vision 2030 with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The China-brokered Saudi-Iran deal will deal a massive blow to the near-unlimited geopolitical sway that Washington held and change the Middle East.
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