Saudi Arabia unveils new high-speed line

October 02, 2018

Saudi Arabia is inaugurating its first high-speed line this week. With the opening of the 280-mile (450 km) Haramain line, Saudi Arabia joins the growing list of countries around the world that recognize that fast trains are a great way to travel.

Designed for speeds up to 200 mph (320 km/h), the electrified, grade-separated high-speed line travels through the western part of Saudi Arabia from Mecca in the south to Medina in the north. Along the way it skirts the Red Sea and traverses the Hijaz mountains.

Like any other high-speed line, it includes many bridges and a few tunnels, but this one may be the world’s first to also include designated camel crossings.

The train cuts the travel time from Mecca to Medina in half, to two hours. The 280-mile trip is the same distance as Chicago to Detroit on Amtrak, which takes more than five hours.

In regular service, trains will run as fast as 190 mph (300 km/h). At first, there will be eight roundtrips a day. This will increase to 12 in 2019.

The train was conceived, in large part, to handle the immense loads of travelers who make the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. But, the train is also designed for everyday travel. Along the way, it also serves the King Abdullah Economic City and Jeddeh, where it will eventually connect with the rest of the Saudi rail network. A branch line connects to King Abdulaziz International Airport, the country’s busiest airport.

The line was built and will be operated and maintained by a public-private Spanish-Saudi consortium that includes Renfe and Adif, Spain’s national train operator and infrastructure manager. The service has 35 train sets that are made by Talgo and are an evolution of the famous “duck-nose” design used on some Spanish AVE services.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s top oil producers, with the world’s 2nd largest reserve of crude remaining untapped. Despite this wealth of fossil fuel, they recognized that high-speed rail was the right solution to their travel needs. The train is expected to serve 60 million passengers every year, of which 3 or 4 million will be pilgrims.

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