Saudi Arabia's new high-speed railway opened to the public on Thursday (October 11th), whisking Muslim pilgrims and other travellers between Mecca and Medina, AFP reported.
The Haramain High Speed Rail system will transport passengers 450 kilometres 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 a.m., according to the Saudi Press Agency.
Two daily services are initially planned in each direction, it said.
King Salman on September 25th 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 Mecca and Medina 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 Riyadh, as it seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy.