Muslim pilgrims used to travel by foot to Mecca, the holy city, but they can now travel across the Saudi desert in a high-speed train.
These sleek, long-nosed javelins carry pilgrims and other passengers and fly through the scorching deserts of Saudi Arabia about 50 times per day at speeds of up to 186 mph.
The trains, which are among the fastest in the world, are just the beginning of a rail network that is expected to spread across the Middle Eastern kingdom as the kingdom invests billions in infrastructure to boost tourism and diversify its revenue sources beyond oil.
Religious pilgrims and leisure travelers alike can now travel from King Abdulaziz International Airport’s arrivals terminal to a sparkling station where electric express trains whirl across the nation from Jeddah, the country’s second-largest city.
On a 450-kilometer (280-mile) line that runs along a portion of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastline, the brand-new Haramain high-speed trains are available to all travelers, despite the fact that only Muslims are permitted to visit Mecca.
The Arabic word “haramain” refers to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which are located on opposite ends of the line. It also connects King Abdullah Economic City, Jeddah’s airport, and Jeddah Al-Sulimaniyah, which is close to the city center. It opened in 2018.
Purchasing tickets is not difficult. English and Arabic are available in the gold-and-white HHR Train app. Even though a lot of Saudis only use the Islamic calendar, switching to the English option will make the Gregorian calendar available. You will need to enter your ID information before clicking “pay,” so keep your passport handy.
On a normal work day in mid 2023, an economy ticket between Jeddah Al-Suleimanyah and the Ruler Abdullah Financial City (KAEC, pronounced like “kaish”) cost 57.50 Saudi riyals, (about $15.30), while a business class seat was 97.75 riyals (about $26).
In the meantime, Apple Pay and other digital wallet options are accepted by the app.
The layout of train cars is shown on the app, allowing passengers to select a window or aisle seat and whether or not they want to face the direction of travel. While reserving for gatherings or families, the application will consequently choose seats close to one another assuming they’re accessible.
The trains were designed by Foster + Partners in the United Kingdom. They have clean lines, black walls, and small star-shaped ceiling carvings that let in different kinds of light throughout the day.
From Jeddah to KAEC, a journey of 111 kilometers (69 miles) takes just 32 minutes.
The Umrah market has grown significantly for the railway. The Saudi Gazette says that there has been such a high demand for train tickets for religious pilgrims that HHR will run many more train trips than usual during Ramadan, which is in 2023 and runs from mid-March to mid-April.
Business class passengers are entitled to a full meal service, even on short flights like the one from Jeddah to KAEC. This includes hummus, a few pita bread rounds, a croissant, a chocolate chip muffin, a fruit cup, and a choice of apple juice or water. It is served by a formally dressed orderly out of a plane style drink truck.
On this trip, there are also small TVs in the seats with limited viewing options: a sermon on Islam, Formula E racing, or Paw Patrol
Taking in the dusty view from your window is a much better option, especially on short journeys.
Nevertheless, this is not a leisurely excursion through far-off locales. You won’t see much of the open desert landscape of Jeddah, and you won’t be able to see the Red Sea, which is just out of sight.
All signage on board is in Arabic and English, as are the announcements made on board. Uniformed attendants will assist passengers in locating their boarding zone, carrying luggage, and assisting with wheelchairs and strollers once they have reached the train platforms.
Seats in economy class are two-by-two in design. There are small tables where the center rows meet to face each other, and half of the seats face forward and the other half face backward. In contrast, in business class, there are two seats on one side of the aisle and one seat on the opposite side.
Seats in both service classes feature armrests and seat-back tables, and there are storage areas for luggage at each car’s end. The majority of the seats and other interiors are tan, light gold, and white, which does a better job of contrasting with the desert landscape outside.
The HHR train is quiet, and there are no abrupt turns or jolts during the ride. Even though passengers are unable to see the train’s driver, it’s possible that a woman is in charge.
The first batch of 32 women graduated from the Saudi Railway Polytechnic’s one-year training program in January 2023, earning licenses to operate high-speed trains on the Haramain network.
On the other hand: When the rail line opened in 2018, women in the kingdom had just started driving cars.
With regards to rapid rail route, it appears to be like the Haramain line is just the starting in Saudi Arabia. In addition, existing lines in the northwest of the nation have been upgraded, and additional high-speed services are planned.
In January 2022, Saudi Arabia’s investment minister Khalid al-Falih announced plans to build 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles) of rail across the whole country.