New line to Saudi Arabia’s capital disrupted by earthquake

Now seen as an example of sustained urban planning in Saudi Arabia, the Bayt al-Faqih railway takes riders to city’s underground stations

Western visitors to Saudi Arabia will get a first-hand view of its impressive piece of infrastructure – the 11-mile-long station of the metro line.

It is an example of Saudi Arabia’s sustained urban planning for more than a decade, says the government. The coach number 317 at the Bayt al-Faqih station. Photograph: Thaispeter Rad

That engineering feat, dedicated and gleaming, could easily be left in pieces, or damaged beyond repair, after being pulled out by a powerful earthquake.

The transportation system is now much longer than the line’s first segment, built in 2004, connecting the capital, Riyadh, to the southern coastal city of Jeddah, which officials hope will cut travel time from the capital to the city centre to 45 minutes.

The 24th-century all-metal BMWs and trucks that serve as comfort coaches on the new line, the Via Saudi Arabia, look sleek and simple inside. They’re safer than their 1950s analog predecessors, too. The trains ran through the devastation of the 2010 Jeddah cholera outbreak.

Coaches on the old line carry the heaviest fare on the planet – sugar – and a first-class ticket costs 700 riyals (£125). Photograph: Handout

For the fees, passengers could choose from free Wi-Fi, wireless access, pre-loaded charging devices, buffet cuisine and seat ventilation. (The system, in any case, has no oversight or oversight.)

Non-subsidised tickets start at one riyal (£0.05), the cheapest rail fare in the world. The first-class ticket is 1,100 riyals (£199).

A ticket costs 1,100 riyals ($199) with first-class accommodation included. Photograph: Thaispeter Rad

The new rail line, said to be the world’s largest tramway, is now the exclusive means of transport for more than 1 million people, providing smoother ground to Saudi engineers for projects to come.

The 8m-volt metro line running over 263km. Photograph: Handout

But when the country’s appetite for infrastructure has grown large enough to build a subway in Riyadh the rail lines and lines are not expected to stop there. Road safety and safety of the river system are priorities for the next line, said Khaled al-Falih, the transport minister.

The next phase of the system, a nine-mile-long tramway that spans the rest of the capital, will be installed next year, said Falih.

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