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Page last updated at 11:52 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

China to build Mecca rail system

Muslim pilgrims at Mecca's Grand Mosque
About two million Muslim pilgrims perform the Hajj every year

China has signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia to build a new railway system linking the main sites of the annual Muslim pilgrimage, the Hajj.

The new railway will connect the city of Mecca with the pilgrim destinations of Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah.

Saudi Arabia also plans to build a high-speed rail link to take pilgrims from Mecca to Medina, Islam's two holiest cities, in 30 minutes.

The journey time by road can take anywhere between four and five hours.

Millions of Islamic faithful descend on Mecca during the annual mass pilgrimage.

The new network in Saudi Arabia is expected to be ready within three years, with one section of the line due to be completed in time for the 2010 Hajj, officials said.

The contract, worth almost $1.8bn (1.24bn), was awarded to the China Railway Company and a French firm.

The project was announced during a three-day visit by the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, to Saudi Arabia.

China is becoming a key contractor on infrastructure projects in the oil-rich kingdom.

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