Saudi Arabia's first high-speed railway opens to the public - in pictures
Rail links the holy cities of Madinah and Makkah
Saudi Arabia's new high-speed railway opened to the public on Thursday, whisking Muslim pilgrims and other travellers between Islam's holiest cities.
The Haramain High Speed Rail system will transport passengers 450 kilometres (280 miles) via the Red Sea port of Jeddah at speeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour.
Two trains, each carrying 417 passengers, departed from Makkah and Madinah at 8am (9am UAE), according to the Saudi Press Agency.
Two daily services are initially planned in each direction.
Videos online showed shots of the crew compartment as the first train left Makkah towards Madinah carrying passengers.
Other videos showed passengers disembarking at the Makkah train terminal, where many are expected to begin their journey between the two Holy Cities in the coming year.
The new link will slash the travel time Makkah and Madinah from several hours to about 120 minutes, transport officials said.
The rail project, dogged by several delays, was built at a cost of more than $16 billion, according to Saudi media.
In 2011, Saudi Arabia signed a deal for a Spanish consortium to build the rail track, supply 35 high-speed trains and handle a 12-year maintenance contract.
The kingdom is boosting its infrastructure spending and expanding its railways, including with a $22.5 billion metro system under construction in Riyadh, as it seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy.
The annual hajj pilgrimage, which will held in September next year, attracts more than two million Muslims to the region.
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Updated: October 11, 2018 03:52 PM