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Railway developments: Haramain

Time to have an update on the railways in the Kingdom. The two existing main line systems are SRO which operates passenger and freight services between Riyadh and Dammam; and SAR, which has a network of 2,400km and operates heavy haul mineral services in the north as well as a daily passenger service from Riyadh to Ha’il, 622km distant. SAR plans to extend the passenger operation to Al Jawf and Qurriyat (a town near the Jordanian border) over the next year. This will give a passenger network of 449km on SRO and 1240km on SAR.

But soon(ish) to open will be the all-new Haramain High Speed railway that links Makkah to Medinah via Jeddah. This too is 449km long however it will be a 300km/h dedicated high speed line as opposed to SRO which is a mixed traffic railway with 160km/h maximum speed. Journey time between the two holy cities will be two hours. Back in the days of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) this journey would have taken weeks to make on foot or with camels.

One thing that all the Saudi main line railways have in common is that the passenger rolling stock is Spanish built. SRO and SAR have CAF diesel units and Haramain has Talgo high speed electric sets. One of the 35 Haramain train sets is a reserved VIP set with a degree of luxurious fit-out that will be the envy of the world. At the moment, as the railway goes through its final fit-outs there is a weekend “Service Demonstration” operation that has two trains in service, one captive to and sole user of each of the two mainline tracks, and offering a reduced speed with extended journey time. Passengers are invited guests as the railway has yet to gain its operating licence, which is necessary to have before it start a public service.  


The ever-reliable and accurate “Arab News” recently published an article on the Service Demonstration service being offered to the invited guests.

“The high-speed Haramain train’s importance to Saudi Arabia has been highlighted with an announcement by King Salman that he will rely on the super-fast service for his next visit to Madinah.

The city’s governor, Prince Faisal bin Salman, expressed his appreciation to the Saudi ruler for his support of public transport in the Kingdom, and especially for the high-speed Haramain train.
The project is part of the Kingdom’s role in serving pilgrims to the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the visitors to the Prophet’s Mosque.

Prince Faisal used the high-speed rail for the journey to Friday prayers at the Grand Mosque of Makkah.

“The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman, has informed me of his intention to take the Haramain high-speed rail soon when he visits Madinah or departs from it to Makkah,” Prince Faisal said.

Among passengers for a journey that left Madinah on Friday were Prince Faisal, Minister of Transportation and chairman of the Saudi Railway Organization Nabil Al-Amoudi, and Chairman of the Public Transport Authority (PTA) and acting head of the Saudi Railways Organization Rumaih bin Mohammed Al-Rumaih.

Prince Faisal highlighted the importance of the project linking Makkah and Madinah through Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic City in Rabigh in light of efforts to receive 30 million pilgrims as part of Vision 2030 program to diversify revenues.

He said the Haramain high-speed rail link was among the safest and most important transportation services in the world. The rail service will enhance the flow of visitors to the Two Holy Mosques through the link between the two holy cities.

The Madinah governor expressed confidence in the performance of the Saudi youth and the services they provide at the stations.

“What I saw invites me to register my honor and pride in the significant role played by young men and women in all stages of the development, including their effective contribution and participation in establishing and implementing the high-speed rail.”

Al-Amoudi said the support of Prince Faisal had made it easier to meet the challenges faced by work teams building the Haramain station in Madinah and the related phases within the time frame of the project.

He said the SR60 billion ($16 billion) high-speed train is on track to be fully operational this year.
Al-Amoudi said the pilot operation has been going to plan since the end of 2017. Project supervisors have organized regular trips in which a large number of governmental, non-governmental and charitable bodies have participated.

He said the PTA was focused on taking transport in the Kingdom to another level, guaranteeing opportunities for nationalization and thus achieving the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
The Haramain train station was proof of the Kingdom’s competence in achieving such projects, he said.

The Haramain service is one of the biggest public transport projects in the Middle East, a 450-kilometer, two-way electric train linking Makkah and Madinah, with extensions to Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic City.

The project will carry 60 million passengers a year on 35 trains, with a seating capacity of 417 per train and traveling at a speed of 300 kph.

The station is about three kilometers from the Grand Mosque in Makkah, while the Madinah station is located in the Knowledge Economic City on King Abdul Aziz Road.”


So there you are – the world’s newest high speed railway is nearly ready. The publicly declared passenger figures are of interest, 60m per year. By my calculaton that’s 164,000 average each day, 82,000 in each direction. With a train capacity of 417 people each this will require nearly 200 trains in each direction per day. Assuming a 24 hour service that’s about 8 trains per hour each way. Or if a 16-hour service that’s 12 trains per hour, a frequency and headway of 5 minutes. Ambitious stuff.

The article makes no mention of the civil engineering involved in constructing the route. The line crosses desert and mountainous terrain with no tunnels, and there are some seriously impressive structures en route. In transport terms this could be one of the wonders of the world.




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