The Gulf Railway plan, a rail system that will link all of the GCC together, is looking ever more feasible as the months pass by.
Last week, King Salman inaugurated a high-speed rail service that will link its two holiest cities: Mecca and Medina. The project reportedly cost $7.87 billion, according to Reuters.
While the tourism sector will surely benefit from this new project, the greatest winners are the pilgrims, who will enjoy faster travel times and potentially lower commuting costs – if Saudi prioritizes public service over profits.
Get to Mecca from Medina in half the time
The 450-km Haramain Railway connecting Mecca and Medina with the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah is one of the largest transportation projects in the Middle East, targeting nearly 60 million passengers annually, Reuters reported. Commercial operations began this week.
“The journey between the Haramain (two holy mosques) is now shorter and easier than at any time before,” Transport Minister Nabil al-Amoudi said at the inauguration.
The new rail service will reportedly reduce travel time between the two cities by half, easing the traffic congestion that piles up every Hajj. Chairman of Saudi Public Transport Authority Rumaih bin Mohammed Al Rumaih said that the train will run at 300 kph.
The service will link 5 stations: Mecca, Jeddah, King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah, Rabigh and Madinah.
“Pilgrims comprise the bulk of Saudi Arabia’s 20 million annual foreign visitors, apart from workers and business travelers,” Reuters notes. “More than two million came for this year’s Hajj and 6.5 million performed Umrah in 2017.”
Officials aim to increase the number of Umrah and Hajj pilgrims to 15 million and five million respectively by 2020, and hope to double the Umrah number again to 30 million by 2030.
Public service will have to come first
The railway project was funded by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and was developed by a Spanish-led consortium of international companies.
The PIF’s backing fits with Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan that hopes to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from oil.
In the process, this rail project will also provide jobs and improve the cost and quality of living in the country.
What other transportation projects are being developed?
Back in July, the Saudi Press Agency revealed that the Kingdom had signed 23 new transportation projects worth $453 million. Seven of these projects are in Mecca, six in Riyadh, four in Assir, two in the Eastern Province, and one in Hail, Al-Bahah, and Tabuk.
Below are some of the most prominent projects currently in the pipeline: