Interglob EuArAm Transcar Group (IETC)from Switzerland is preparing to set up an international consortium to carry out the Magno TransCar project, which in its first phase will link Jeddah with the holy city of Mecca. The project will be based on magnetic levitation technology, enabling trains to travel at speeds of up to 500 kilometres an hour (km/h) and accelerating to 300 km/h within 6 kilometres, five times as fast as conventional high-speed trains.

Magnetic levitation technology is set to become operational for the first time on a commercial level at the end of 2003 in Shanghai, where an all-German consortium comprising Transrapid International, SiemensTransportation Systemsand ThyssenKruppis responsible for the planning, implementation and financing of the Transrapid project.

‘The key to its project is the different size of rolling stock compared with Transrapid and conventional railway systems,’ says an IETC representative. The five-metre-wide Magno trains aim to transport passengers as well as up to 10 cars per coach, or the equivalent weight of up to 50 tonnes. IETC says the system is set to reduce traffic congestion by enabling large amounts of cars and passengers to be transported at high speeds over long distances. Future plans also include the transport of water, industrial goods and raw materials via the Magno grid, both domestically and across the region.

IETC says studies show that the Magno railway system is cheaper and faster than air travel up to a distance of 800 kilometres.

The first phase of the project will be 50 per cent funded by the Saudi government, with the remainder to be arranged through project finance schemes. IETC is now inviting both local and international contractors, as well as technology providers to participate in the scheme (see Tenders).

Among the potential partners to supply technology are Canada’s Bombardier, Chinese firms licensed to use magnetic levitation technology and members of the German Transrapid consortium.

It is understood that IETC has already reached an agreement with Athens-based Consolidated Contractors International Company (CCC)for the $300 million construction of the 60-80-kilometre Jeddah-Mecca railway track.

IETC is also holding talks with Japanese trading house Marubenito provide financing for the scheme.

The second phase of the Magno project will see the expansion of the Jeddah-Mecca line to Medinah. IETC says it is also holding talks with Saudi Ogerfor the extension of the grid to incorporate mining centres across the country.

IETC in a partnership with Bombardier was recently appointed to carry out a smaller magnetic levitation scheme in the Pakistani city of Lahore, to be extended at a later stage to Karachi and the port of Gwadar.