Construction is under way on the first high-speed passenger railway line between Makkah and Madinah and is expected to be complete by January 2014. Transport Minister Jabara Al-Seraisry, said the new Madinah railway station situated close to the Prince Muhammad Airport would serve Haj and Umrah pilgrims more efficiently.
"The work on the Haramain High Speed Rail Project between Makkah and Madinah is progressing on time and as planned," Al-Seraisry, who is also chairman of the Saudi Railway Organization, told Al-Jazirah daily.
The 480-km railway line, constructed specifically for high-speed electric trains, will pass through the port city of Jeddah.
The first phase of the Haramain project includes the building of a railway station at Makkah and Madinah and two stations in Jeddah including the one at King Abdulaziz International Airport.
Initially the Haramain railway is expected to carry more than 3 million passengers annually. According to statistics, more than 3.5 million pilgrims were transported between Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah in 2005.
The same year saw more than 2 million Umrah pilgrims. According to studies conducted by the Haj Ministry, demand for transporting Haj pilgrims is expected to double over the next 25 years and Umrah pilgrims will total 11 million.
This, along with the huge potential for employment of Saudis, resulted in significant investment in the transport sector.
Minister Al-Seraisry said Saudization of the sector would start at 75 percent, with the intention to achieve 100 percent.
The project contract specifies an institute to train Saudi workers on high-speed technology be established.
"Technical matters relating to issues like safety, however, would require foreign experts," he said.
Saudi Arabia currently has 1,200 km of railway lines and when current rail projects are complete, the total will be closer to 7,000 km.
A SR 30.8 billion contract was signed between the government and Al-Shoula Co., a Saudi-Spanish consortium, to implement Phase II of the Haramain project in January.
New railway and expansion projects currently underway in the Kingdom include North-South Rail, the Land-bridge Project between Riyadh and Jeddah, and the GCC Railway.
The North-South Rail has two components: A service to transport minerals to manufacturing centers at the Ras Al-Khair port in the Arabian Gulf; and a passenger and freight service. It will start at the Jordanian border and link with the Riyadh to Dammam Railway.
The GCC railway project will connect the six GCC members, starting in Kuwait, passing through Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, and Saudi Arabia, and ending in Oman.