remain the least developed means of
transportation in the Kingdom. There are vast
distances to cover, in often adverse
environmental conditions, and it was
inevitable that airline services seem to be a
more practical mode of transportation to a
country undertaking a major development
program in the second half of the twentieth
Kingdom's railways currently consists
primarily of a single track, standard-gauge
line, running for 570 kilometers from Riyadh
to Dammam in the eastern region. This line
which was opened in 1951 (1370/71 AH), passes
through Dhahran, Abqaiq, Hofuf, Harad and al-Kharj
and has benefited from substantial renovation
in recent years. An additional line joining
Hofuf with Riyadh was opened in 1985 (1405/06
Kingdom's railways are managed by the Saudi
Arabian Railway Corporation (now the Saudi
Government Railways Organization), established
in 1966 (1396 AH) as an independent public
utility, governed by a board of directors.
address of the Saudi Government Railroad
Government Railroad Organization Dhahran
PO Box 92
Tel: 871 2222
Hejaz Railway was originally built to
transport pilgrims from Damascus to Madinah.
The idea was first conceived in 1864, during a
time of great expansion in railway
engineering, but it was not until 40 years
later that the initial idea came to fruition.
only method of transport for the pilgrims to
Madinah in those bygone days was camel
caravan, a journey which would have been
arduous for even the most intrepid traveller.
The journey would have taken about two months,
and a further two months on the return,
travelling through winter's freezing
temperatures and torrential rains, or the
scorching heat of the summer months. Towns and
settlements were sparse and hostile tribes,
together with an inhospitable environment, no
doubt compounded the difficulties.
concept of the railway presented a financial
as well as an engineering challenge, requiring
a budget of some £8 million pounds.
Contributions from the Turkish sultan Abdul
Hammed, the Khedive of Egypt, and the Shah of
Iran helped to raise the money. Other
contributions came from the Turkish Civil
Service and armed forces, and from various
fund-raising efforts (which included the sale
of titles such as Pasha or Bey).
maintenance and guarding of the line all
presented enormous difficulties, mainly
undertaken by 5,000 Turkish soldiers. Apart
from the unpredictable -- and often hostile --
local tribesmen, variations in the terrain
itself made construction difficult. The ground
was very soft and sandy in places and solidly
rocky in others. Water scarcity was the norm,
but occasional torrential rainstorms caused
flash floods, washing away bridges and banks
and causing the line to collapse.
camel caravan owners were far from pleased by the construction of the
railway line, as it posed a considerable threat to their livelihood.
The railway journey was quicker and cheaper, and no-one in his right
mind would contemplate spending £40 on an arduous, two-month camel
journey when he could travel in comfort in only four days for just £3.50.
Frequent attacks on the trains by the tribes and furious caravan
operators, made the journey to Madinah a perilous undertaking for
pilgrims, whether by camel or by rail.
1 September 1908 the railway was officially opened, and was
transporting 30,000 pilgrims a year by 1912. Business boomed, and by
1914 the annual load had soared to 300,000 passengers. Not only were
pilgrims transported to Madinah, but the Turkish army began to use the
railway as its chief mode of transport for troops and supplies. This
was to be the railway's undoing, as it was severely damaged during the
First World War (1914-1918). There was no direct intention to destroy
the railway at this time; the main aim was simply to cripple it, in
order to impede the advance of the Turkish army.
the First World War, and until as recently as 1971, several attempts
were made to revive the railway, but the scheme proved too difficult
and too expensive. Road transport was now established and, by the
Seventies, aviation had made rapid progress. The railway was rapidly
superseded and the huge old steam locomotives clanked sadly to their
final halt. But the romance of the railway remains alive.
followers of the phantom steam trail of the Hejaz Railway will find it
worthwhile to go as far north as Tabuk, about 1,100km from Jeddah. In
the grey, rocky hills outside Tabuk, one comes upon the station at Al
Awjariyah, which is built from natural grey stone. It is two-storied
and built like a fortress, in common with most of the other stations
along the line, leading one to suppose that the life of a
station-master in those days was not for the faint-hearted.
the track along Wadi Saba for about 13km leads to another station, and
the track seems here to double back on itself. The track then
continues through a deep gorge cut into the hills and thence into a
tunnel. The steel tracks have been removed long ago, and local farms
now use the iron sleepers as building supports and fence posts.
eighth station -- Ad Dar Al Hamra -- is situated at the end of a wide,
flooded section of the wadi. The stations are at approximately 20km
intervals and behind this particular one the ruins of a Turkish fort
are worth exploring. Interesting too, is the station at Al Mutalla,
which has several overturned carriages lying beside it.
Medain Saleh, the station is fascinating, with an enormous old engine
house, containing several rusting old steam locomotives.
Sawrah, about 116km south of Al Ula, is one of the most scenic
stations to be found along the route. Situated in a wide, beautiful
wadi, the three station buildings are constructed of an attractive
yellow stone. Just outside the station one can see the shells of a
couple of old pick-up trucks, probably the remains of an attempt to
rehabilitate the railway line.
first mining of the Hejaz Railway was at Aba el Naam, but there are
more interesting relics to be found further north, some 34km down the
line from Al Sawrah. Here, twisted pieces of iron rails lie in the
sand beside the engine, which still remains upright, despite being
some distance from the track itself. Explosives have ripped open
sections of metal at the back of the engine and wrecked bogies, blown
apart from their carriages, lie nearby. Nothing seems to have changed
round trip from Jeddah encompasses about 3,000km and is an outstanding
journey, as both a visual and a historical experience.