Saudi Arabia's first high-speed passenger rail line, which will link the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, is slated for completion by January 2014, it was reported on Friday.
Construction is underway on the transport link which will serve Haj and Umrah pilgrims, Transport Minister Jabara Al-Seraisry said.
“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 Organisation, said in comments published by Saudi daily Arab News.
The 480km railway line, which will also pass through the port city of Jeddah, will cut travel time between the two holy cities to just two hours.
Initially the Haramain railway is expected to carry more than 3 million passengers annually.
Last October, the SRO awarded a 6.74bn euro ($9.4bn) contract for the second phase of the Haramain project to the public-private Saudi-Spanish Al-Shoula consortium.
The Al-Shoula consortium is made up of Spanish public rail companies including state railway operator Renfe and rail track company Adif, as well as private constructors OHL, ACS and Indra and Saudi companies Al Shoula y Al Rosan.
Saudi Arabia currently has 1,200km of railway lines and when current rail projects are complete, the total will be closer to 7,000km, Arab News said.
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.
More than 33,000km of railway lines are planned to be built in the Middle East and North Africa with the region's mainline rail network set to almost double in size, a report said last year.
According to the Mena Rail Report 2011, metro, tram and monorail track lengths will also increase tenfold.
A review of rail projects across the Middle East, North Africa and the Levant showed there was more than $250bn of planned investment set out by governments and rail operators.