MANY MOONS have passed since anyone has suggested reviving the Hedjaz Railway, built in 1901-08 from Damascus to the Islamic holy city of Medina in what is now Saudi Arabia. Although sections were famously destroyed by Lawrence of Arabia, substantial parts of the 1050mm gauge line are remarkably intact, and a weekly train still runs over the 223 km between Damascus and Amman. For many years trains south of Amman have been restricted to excursions and charters, but now Hedjaz Jordan Railway is drawing up proposals for launching a regular service from Amman to Jiza, about 30 km to the south.

It seems Jiza is to become a Muslim pilgrimage centre with exhibition areas, a theme park, shops, museums and rides. According to HJR Managing Director Abd Al Razzaq Abul Feilat, pilgrims travelling through Jordan will be able to take the train from Amman to Jiza where they will be taught about hadj and the early Islamic sites in Jordan before they continue to Mecca.

Reconstruction of the route all the way to Mecca has been mooted on numerous occasions, but the obstacles are legion. Nonetheless, there is talk of new lines in Saudi Arabia, including routes for which design studies were carried out in the 1980s, such as Dammam - Jubail and Riyadh to Medina.