French, Spanish groups vie for huge Mecca rail contract

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A French-Saudi group including Alstom and SNCF and a Spanish-led consortium were the only bidders Saturday for Saudi Arabia's multi-billion dollar Mecca-Medina high speed railway, Saudi officials said.

At least five groups, including German, Chinese and South Korean firms, had qualified for bidding to build the 450-kilometre (275-mile) Haramain railway linking Islam's holiest cities through the Red Sea port of Jeddah.

The railway aims at moving large numbers of Muslim pilgrims between the three cities, especially during the annual hajj when some 2.5 million people from all over the world convene in Mecca for two weeks.

The bidders were the Al-Rajhi group, including Saudi builder Al-Rajhi, Alstom and state railway SNCF, and Spanish bidders together with the Saudi Al-Shoula conglomerate.

The winner has to develop the track, signalling, communications and electrification, supply the trains and run and service the project for the initial 12 years of operation.

In February the Saudi government announced that the state-owned Public Investment Fund would help finance the project to ensure there were no finance-related delays.

© 2010 AFP

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