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First train journey

I had my first journey by rail in KSA on Sunday. 13.38 from Riyadh to Dammam. Journey time is about 4 1/2 hours, about 450km distance. The Saudi Railways Organization offers 5 trains each way every day. On weekdays (Sun-Thu) there are also two local train pairs between Dammam and Hofuf, which is about 1/3 of the way to Riyadh. Fares are very reasonable too. Car parking at the stations is plentiful, and whilst it is one of the few places I have encountered parking charges, it is 1SR (20p) per hour in a covered slot.

The timetable helpfully describes the services as "Modern" and "Normal". The Riyadh services are the Modern stock, four year old CAF built diesel train sets which are comfortable - in first class anyway - with air con, on board TV, at-seat trolley catering and a high level of on board staff. The Normal trains operate the Hofuf locals, and consist of loco hauled (EMD SD50) pulling Rotem passenger stock of 2004 vintage, so hardly old in railway terms. In first class the comfort levels are exactly the same. Complimentary offerings consist of dates and a particularly foul version of the local coffee. On my return on Monday, I took a local train to Hofuf then a following train forward to Riyadh. 

The biggest difference between these services and European ones is that from a CS perspective they are airlines on wheels. You need to be at the station 30 mins before departure, and go through security, check bags in, wait at the gate till called to board, pointed to the right carriage, pointed to your seat and spoon fed all the way. This seems strange until you realise that the Saudis are totally unaccustomed to rail travel, it is all very new to them. As women are not allowed to drive, it is also a convenient way of them travelling between these cities. There appeared to be sizeable groups of ladies travelling, without their usual man partners, and collectively having no idea what to do. The women are herded (and I make no apology for using that term, for its the only descriptor that is accurate) around the stations and onto, around and off the trains. I had been puzzled by the 14 minutes station dwell times for the Riyadh trains at Hofuf, but it became clear why when the train arrived. Firstly the people de-training were rounded up and taken off, shown to the arrivals hall and baggage reclaim, and then the first class pax were brought out of their waiting hall and shown to their carriages, and finally the second class folk allowed to board too. Somewhat different to London Bridge (SE side) in the peak!

Once the journeys start, and after intermediate stops there are the on-board announcements in Arabic and English, followed by a recorded incantation to Allah beseeching His blessings  on the journeys the people are making. All in all, a fascinating experience. 



Something has occurred to me, several weeks since I started working in Saudi Arabia. I haven't seen any dogs when I've been out and about. There are cats aplenty, mostly roaming wild, but no dogs. I wonder why that is. Anyone know?


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