The Haramain High Speed Rail system will transport passengers between Makkah and Madinah
Saudi Arabia's new high-speed railway opened to the public on Thursday, whisking Muslim pilgrims and other travellers between Makkah and Madinah, 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 8 am (0500 GMT), according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency.
Two daily services are initially planned in each direction, it said.
Saudi King Salman inaugurated the high-speed railway on September 25, which local officials described as the biggest transportation project in the region.
The new link will slash the travel time Makkah and Madinah 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 pilgrimage, which is to be held in September next year, attracts more than two million Muslims to the Makkah region.For all the latest transport news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.