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Saudi Arabia´s new high-speed railway opened to the public on Thursday, whisking Muslim pilgrims and other travelers between Makkah and Madina.
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 Mecca and Medina at 8 am (0500 GMT), according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency.
Two daily services are initially planned in each direction, it said.
— هاشتاق العرب (@TheArabHash) October 11, 2018
Tickets are available from the Haramain High-Speed Rail Project website. There will be eight services daily on both sides until the end of this year.
From the beginning of next year, the services will be increased to 12. The frequency of trains will be increased in the future depending on the demand.
Last month, Minister of Transport Nabeel Al-Amoudi inspected the preparedness of the Haramain High-Speed Train between the sectors of Mecca and Jeddah.
— بندر عطيف (@b_otyf) October 11, 2018
Saudi King Salman on October 25 inaugurated the high-speed railway, which local officials described as the biggest transportation project in the region.
The new link will slash the travel time Makkah and Madina from several hours to 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 the capital Riyadh, as it seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy.
The annual Hajj, which is to be held in September next year, attracts more than two million pilgrims to Makkah.