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Sat 23 Jan 2010 04:00 AM

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A very good year

A look back on Makkah's progress during 2009 and what the city can expect from this year.

A very good year
Saudi passengers take the train on an internal trip in Riyadh’s only rail station.

A look back on Makkah's progress during 2009 and what the city can expect from this year.

After a cautious year of slow movement in a frustrated, developing region, many of the Middle East's cities have been glad to see the back of 2009. But, for Makkah, Saudi Arabia, last year was a period of progression.

The holiest city kick-started the year by signing an agreement with China to build the US $1.78 billion (SAR6.65 billion) Haramain High-speed Railway (HHR) (popularly also known as the Makkah-Madinah link), which is the first high-speed rail network to be constructed in the Middle East.

It will connect the cities of Makkah, Jeddah and Madinah and the new King Abdullah Economic City via a 320km/h rail track. Construction is currently being undertaken by China Railway Construction Corporation, together with Al Rajhi construction group and French firm, Alstom. In February, it was reported that 35% of the project's capacity would be ready for use during this year's Hajj.

"We consider it a major project in the history of transport in the Kingdom," Saudi Railway Organisation chairman Jabara Al-Seraisry told Arab News.

"The signing ceremony is the result of great efforts made by the officials of the Saudi Railway Organisation and the Public Investment Fund, which has played a vital role in screening bidders for the project."

In May, eight companies, including Saudi Aramco, were awarded the Makkah Award for Excellence for their contributions to the development of the province.

The winners were announced by Prince Khaled Al Faisal, governor of Makkah, at the event which was being held for the first time. The award was established in 2008 in hope of increasing competition and creativity by giving recognition in selected fields.

"It completes our development strategy in the region by encouraging outstanding work from both individuals and organisations," said Al Faisal.

Also that month, Ahmad Zaki Saudi Arabia Company was awarded a $52 million contract to build reinforced concrete structures for Tower H1-A of the Jabal Omar development in Makkah. The work is expected to be completed by November this year and the entire mixed-use development is due for completion by Q3 of 2011.

And there was no sign of a slowdown as the second half of 2009 saw the inauguration of the King Abdul Aziz Road project in Makkah, a development that is currently under construction and progressing; then, in November, came the announcement that the 700-room Ramada Plaza Makkah hotel would be constructed in the Saudi province. Riyada International Hotels and Resorts Company is set to complete the five-star development by 2011.

The last quarter of the year also saw the completion of the $1.2 billion Jamaarat Bridge, a pedestrian bridge used by Muslims in the stoning of the devil ritual, during Hajj.

So, all in all, 2009 was a year for advancement and groundbreaking in Makkah, but what can the city expect from 2010?

For starters, international consultancy firm Scott Wilson has won a $23.1 million contract to provide project management to HHR.

The year is also set to see some serious progression on the Makkah Metro and the prestigious Abraj Al Bait towers development.

Hope and excitement aren't words often associated with today's economic climate, but for construction companies investing and operating in Makkah, they're words that can be said with some confidence...well, whispered at least.

Arabian Business digital magazine: read the latest edition online