Lack of Railways in Saudi Arabia

Train Station KSA

When an expat arrives in the Kingdom I always wonder how long it will take for him or her to realize they rarely if ever see any railroad tracks?  For example in the United States, travel by train whether for business, pleasure or to carry goods and supplies is a standard mode of transport.  Just about every small town and village to all the largest cities will have train tracks and railway stations.  However here in the Kingdom there is presently only one rail route and that is between Riyadh and Damman.  I’m not exactly sure why this is the chosen route.  Perhaps it has to do with Damman being a seaside border city and many goods and products are received there.  Given the number of muslims who wish to perform hajj and umrah from both inside and outside the Kingdom I would imagine that train routes to/from Mecca and Medina would be equally popular as well as removing some of the congestion from the busy roadways.

17 Responses

  1. what happedn to the old Hejaz Railway, from Damascus to Medina??? .. I knwo they didnt have time to fininsh stanbul to Damascus and Constantinople-Baghdad.

  2. Imran,

    To my understanding the route from Riyadh to Damman is part of what was referred to as the old Hejaz Railway. The photo I included with this posting is from those old days of the Hejaz Railway.

    Thanks for posting,

  3. They do have plans to construct railways as I read on arabnews, but I would say they have been quite late. And another thing in Saudi is that it can take a few years after some projects are highlighted in the papers to actually start. The latest I remember was that some 4 consortiums had been shortlisted and the final announcement would be in April. Having an effective public and national transport system is crucial for the overall development of a nation. Unfortunately the more resources they have, the lesser they think of conserving them and investing in a proper advanced system.
    I happened to go through google last week looking forward to a weekend getaway to Dammam, and unfortunately the website turned out to be quite pathetic. They have a map showing the future rail links of Saudi.
    Lets hope they get something up and running soon, and maintain quality and improvise customer service!

  4. Dear Carol,
    The following explains a little of the proposed railways in the Kingdom:
    And the Hejaz Railway is in the west, terminating in Madinah from Damascus. The Damman/Riyadh line is not part of that. I include a link to a post I did on the magnificent restoration of the original station here in Madinah, and if you do a search on Hejaz railway you will find a wealth of information.
    Thanks for your lively insights to aspects of life in the Kingdom.
    Umm Bilal

  5. Any kind of reliable public transport would be good! As for trains, I think even Dubai is only just getting round building a railway now isn’t it??

  6. Carol
    If my memory of history lessons serves me right,railways were built by colonial powers, primarily to transport goods to the nearest port for shipment back to Europe.

    British influence in the region which has come to be the Kingdom was at it’s minimum and United States became the favoured friend building roads and airports in exchange for oil exploration contracts. UK was going broke after WW2.
    The fall of Suez was the death blow for British influence which had only maintaned it in the Gulf.
    “British involvement has helped influence
    the region’s social and political climate.
    Although hostilities raged between the
    Arab kingdoms and Great Britain early
    in the 19th century, the warring parties
    signed a treaty to end the fighting in

    I am always fascinated with how technology shapes peoples lives.

  7. The old Hijaz railway was destroyed during WW1 as a measure for curbing the Turkish influence in Arabia (of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ fame).

    Anyway, the plans for the Jeddah-Mecca-Medina railroad seem quite solid this time. Concrete plans have been announced and a three and a half year time period is expected. It’ll be a high speed connection as well, with the speed of the train topping at 300 km/h.

    Hopefully I’ll see it in my lifetime?

  8. I live in St. Louis and tracks are always around. I went to college in Terre Haute, Indiana and that city is known as the Crossroads of America and it is….so many tracks is unbelievable. I used to live in married student housing while in college and the tracks ran behind us. You get “used” to the train after a few months, so much so you cannot even tell that they are racing past you except when they blow the whistle…….

  9. I have personally found rail travel to be a wonderful way of seeing a country and fondly recall train trips throughout Europe, India, Sri Lanka and even Pakistan to name a few. The news that many of you have shared about plans for the Kingdom are very encouraging and shame on me for not doing some more searches before posting this musing!

  10. My mom takes the Amtrak to Chicago (one way) for about $34 US dollars. I would love to take the Amtrak cross country like my sister and her husband did to California. She saw some gorgeous scenery along the way. They have special cars which are like almost all glass you can peer out of and enjoy the view.

  11. The train also bends down to Al-Hassa on the way to Dammam so remember to stop by if you’re on the train to Dammam.

  12. I am actually trying to persuade my husband that we do take the train on our next trip to Damman instead of driving so we can enjoy the new experience. And of course, Daisy, we’d have to stop off in Al Hassa!

  13. >>The old Hijaz railway was destroyed during WW1 as a measure for curbing the Turkish influence in Arabia (of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ fame).<<

    The Jordanian/Syrian sector is still in existence; passengers can ride from Damascus to Amman. The line is freight only from Amman to Aqaba, though I believe commemorative passenger trains are occasionally run.

    The line was, I believe, originally planned by the Ottomans, so those in the Mediterranean countries could make the Haj quickly and cheaply.

  14. I had no idea about the Hejaz railway and I am thankful to almiskeenah for the info that shes put up and all the pics n stuff. I think she shud work for Saudi Tourism, she wud be an asset to them.
    Its really strange that u go every year to Madinah and dont know of such places.. i feel dumb!
    I am also planning to get on that only train in here .. I tend to keep my expectations low though …

  15. Carol, I think you perhaps overstate the prevalence of the railroad in the US. While there are, indeed, many tracks, there are not all that many stations. Freight is the main use of the railroads in the US and the government needs to subsidize passenger rail for it to continue to exist.

    I do love the railroad! In the UK and Europe, it’s definitely the best way to travel between distant cities. In India, there’s no other way than flying-no one cheerily undertakes 48-hour drives on Indian highways. And I have taken AmTrack between California (SF) and DC, something that’s really to be done at least once. Discouragingly, though, the trip from LA begins with a bus from SF to Oakland, where one actually gets on the train. And the train goes to Chicago, where you have to deboard and then find the next train. There are the scenic cars referred to above, as well as sleeper cars with several varieties of accommodations, from a ‘semi-suite’ to berth along the corridor-nothing like the sleepers on Eurorail, alas.

    While train tracks run through my town in Florida in several places, if I wish to board a train, I need to go some 60 miles up to Tampa, then take a train to the Orlando area where I can join up with the national network. But that’s where the N-S ‘car train’ has a terminus, too. That’s pretty nifty as it means you can bring your car with you instead of having to rent one!

  16. My husband and I had one of the best times when we took the Amtrak from Orlando to Washington, DC. And we also always enjoyed taking the train between WDC and NYC. It actually made the most sense and averaged the same time as flying when you considered the drive to the airport and airport checkin and wait times as well as Penn Station being in the heart of NYC too.

  17. […] why he did not initially recognize the sound of the train whistle, at the moment there is only one railway route in Saudi which is between Riyadh and Damman.   A family member who had also visited us earlier […]

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