Saudi Arabia’s desert rail system

Image copyright Google Image caption The Desert Railways opened for business in 1971

Construction on the desert rail system in Saudi Arabia dates back to the 1940s but it still hasn’t run at full capacity.

The 30km long railway, which was built above ground, ran from Mecca to Buraidah, but has never fully reached its potential.

It was developed by Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal, using raw materials mainly from outside the country, like gold, limestone and sand.

Saudi Arabia has had its challenges in developing its western desert into a modern infrastructure network.

It has no cities, but plenty of sparse desert settlement, with everyone’s belongings and the crude adzuki – a root of the brackish desert – sitting beside them.

The King Faisal desert rail system was built to fill the gaps in the national railway network at the time – and would boast two major stations, Al Khobar and Jeddah.

The first train to travel from Al Khobar to Buraidah arrived on 29 September 1955, carrying a cargo of 15 tonnes.

The desert railway opened in 1971, by King Faisal, but its development has never progressed to full capacity.

Rather than service passengers from and to the Saudi cities, it mainly caters for pilgrims travelling to Hajj in Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and those on holy tours to the holy cities of Mada’in Saleh and Al Safa.

The network is also used for freight, transporting more than 12 million tonnes of goods last year.

While it’s not a major train system by western standards, it’s certainly the largest and most advanced in the Arabian Peninsula.

It certainly looks like someone is getting to work, with the discovery of a giant underground tunnel discovered in 1990.

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