Work on Hijaz railway connecting Istanbul to the middle east underway
Work to resurrect the 100-year-old Hijaz Railway is rapidly continuing through the collaboration of officials from the countries involved. The railway is expected to be a lifeline reinvigorating trade in the region and bringing peoples and cultures closer, said Transportation Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Suat Hayri Aka at an iftar (fast-breaking dinner) hosted by the Turkish-American Business Association (TABA/AmCham) yesterday. The railway was originally constructed early in the 20th century to connect the Ottoman capital Istanbul to its lands in the Middle East and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. It was underused due to sabotage by British spy T.E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") and Arab tribes around him during World War I. In recent years Turkey has taken strides to boost ties with neighboring and regional countries with which it shares deep-rooted historical and cultural ties, and under this policy, Turkey and Arab Middle Eastern countries decided to revive the rail link, particularly owing to the efforts of Turkish President Abdullah Gul and the government, as a sign of peace and prosperity for the entire region. “When it is successfully completed, a train leaving Istanbul will be in Medina in 24 hours,” Aka said. According to Aka, the original railway project was launched during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II and cost TL 4 million, or 18 percent of the 1901 Ottoman budget. The total length of the revived railway, running from Istanbul to Medina, will be in excess of 3,000 kilometers. Aka said the Turkish State Railways (TCDD) took the initiative in the project but that it needs Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to work together to come fruition. Aka said Turkey had already started work on high-speed train projects from Thrace to Konya, adding that work in Syria and Jordan will begin next year and that the railway will be completed in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The iftar dinner was attended by businessmen from Turkey and the US along with US Consul General in Istanbul Sharon Wiener, TABA/AmCham head Uğur Terzioglu and former TABA/AmCham head Zeynel Abidin Erdem.