10/28/2010, 00.00
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A new ‘Orient Express’ between Istanbul and Beijing

China wants to increase rail traffic and trade with Turkey and other countries in between. At home, it has already boosted its high-speed rail network to over 7,000 kilometres. New, Chinese-built light rail starts operations next month in Makkah.

Shanghai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China and Turkey are discussing a new ‘Orient Express’ to link Istanbul to Shanghai in the not so distant future. In the meantime, China has built an elevated light railway to serve Muslim pilgrims in Makkah.

The visit by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to Turkey in early October warmed relations between the two capitals, marking the dawn of closer economic ties between the two nations. Last year, Ankara was vocal in its condemnation of China’s violent repression of protesting ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

The process of warming up began in July when Turkish Foreign Minister Binali Yildrim visited Beijing to discuss with his Chinese counterpart, Liu Zhijun, the feasibility of a high-speed rail link between the two countries.

So far, no official announcement has been made but China is poised to join Turkey in constructing a new 4,500 kilometres, Turkish railway. Beijing is also involved in upgrading rail links between Turkey and Pakistan as well as planning a railway around Lake Van to Iran and Pakistan.

For experts, China is signing contracts and providing technical and financial assistance to build a modern railway network in order to link these countries and Kazakhstan and boost their future trade with China.

Eventually, this network could be linked to China’s increasingly high-speed railways. On Tuesday in fact, a new high-speed line was inaugurated between Shanghai and Hangzhou (Zhejiang). It covers 202 kilometres in 45 minutes with trains capable of reaching top speeds of 350 kilometres per hour (pictured).

The new link brings China's total high-speed rail network to 7,431 km, the longest in the world, with plans in the work to reach 13,000 km by 2012, more than the rest of the world combined.

In the meantime, the China Railway Construction Corp is set to inaugurate on 13 November a new elevated light rail line in Makkah just in time for an expected 2 million Muslim pilgrims.

The company is however expected to lose about 4.15 billion yuan (US$ 623.3 million) on the project.

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