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Boosting Tourism Business!! – Saudi Launches $16 Billion Haramain High-Speed Rail Linking Islam’s Holiest Cities



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Sep 27 2018
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Muslim pilgrims will have another reason to rejoice when they fly to Saudi Arabia – HSR (high-speed rail). King Salman has just launched the 450km (280-mile) Haramain High-Speed Rail System linking Mecca and Medina – Islam’s two holiest cities – via the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah on Tuesday. It is one of the largest transport projects in the Middle East.

 

Costing a staggering US$16 billion, the mega project, already delayed by 6 years, is part of efforts to boost tourism revenues as the kingdom seeks to shed dependence on oil exports. Pilgrimage is the backbone of a plan to expand tourism under economic reforms announced 2 years ago by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to diversify the country’s economy.

 

Targeting 60 million passengers, the high-speed rail obviously will boost tourism as pilgrimage is a huge business for Saudi Arabia. Considered an once-in-a-lifetime religious duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it – retracing the route Prophet Mohammad took 14 centuries ago – Hajj pilgrimage industry is the country’s second most important after oil and gas.

Saudi Arabia Haramain High Speed Rail HSR

Economic experts have estimated that “Hajj and Umrah” revenues are poised to exceed US$150 billion by 2022 in light of the expected mergers of economic blocs to meet the growing demand on Hajj and Umrah economics in terms of worshippers’ lodging, transport, gifts, food and fees, not to mention spillover-in effects to commercial stores and expansion in small, medium enterprises (SMEs).

 

Pilgrims comprise the bulk of Saudi Arabia’s 20 million annual foreign visitors, apart from workers and business travellers. The kingdom aims to increase the number of “Hajj and Umrah” pilgrims to 15 million and 5 million respectively by 2020, and hope to double the umrah number again to 30 million by 2030.

 

“The journey between the Haramain (two holy mosques) is now shorter and easier than at any time before. The project highlights the kingdom’s commitment to serving Islam and Muslims.” – Saudi transport minister, Nabil al-Amoudi, told dignitaries gathered at the Jeddah station. Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages travelling between Mecca and Medina have faced a bus journey of up to 6 hours.

Saudi Arabia Haramain High Speed Rail HSR - Interior

Beside improving traffic congestion for millions of Muslim pilgrims (estimated 30 million by 2030) that visit the country annually, the railway system which has 35 trains capable of travelling at speeds of 300km per hour will also transport regular travellers or tourists cutting the commute time between the holy cities from more than 5 hours to 2 hours.

 

The Saudi’s HSR network, already dogged by several delays, will have five stations – Mecca, Jeddah, King Abdullah Economic City, King Abdulaziz International Airport and Medina. To be commercially operational next Monday (October 4th), there will be 8 services a day until the end of this year, after which the services will be increased to 12.

 

Journeys between Mecca and Jeddah will take around 21 minutes while Jeddah to King Abdulaziz Airport 14 minutes.Travel between Mecca and Medina will take less than two and a half hours. Each train will carry up to 417 passengers. Authorities said 70% of the 3,000 employees that will manage, operate and maintain the rail network are Saudi nationals.

Kaaba and Al-Masjid al-Haram (The Holy Mosque) in Mecca

Saudi hopes the train will also stimulate growth of King Abdullah Economic City, a massive business zone that was initiated under the previous ruler King Abdullah but remains relatively empty. The HSR will eventually link up with a new terminal at Jeddah airport, which has already started serving select domestic routes and will take over all flights by early next year.

 

Moving forward, project manager Mohammed Fallatah said further expansion could include connecting to a planned east-west train between the capital, Riyadh, and Jeddah. Mecca’s station, about 4km (2.5 miles) from the Grand Mosque, will be able to handle as many as 20,000 passengers per hour.

 

Financed by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, the project finally started in 2011 when Saudi Arabia signed a deal for a Spanish-linked consortium to build the rail track, supply 35 high-speed trains and handle a 12-year maintenance contract. The latest rail isn’t the only new transportation project mooted by the country though.

Saudi Arabia Haramain High Speed Rail HSR - Interior 2

There is also a US$22.5 billion metro system under construction in the capital Riyadh – the Riyadh Metro project due to become fully operational in 2021. The metro public transit, with a parallel bus network, will have six lines traveling 176 kilometres with 85 metro stations. The bus network will have 956 vehicles covering 1,150 kilometres of route length.

 

“The journey between the Haramain (two holy mosques) is now shorter and easier than at any time before. The project highlights the kingdom’s commitment to serving Islam and Muslims.” – Saudi transport minister, Nabil al-Amoudi, told dignitaries gathered at the Jeddah station.

 

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