Automobiles and the challenge of rail



Anyone walking around the motor show at the Riyadh Exhibition Center, which ends today, will have been struck by the sheer range of vehicles on offer.

While more modest family sedans were represented, it was the top-end machines that will have caught the attention of visitors, even of those who, in truth, can only afford a modest family car.

Saudis share with Americans a love affair with their cars. Even if stuck in downtown traffic jams, the air-conditioned comfort of their automobiles is something they enjoy. And, indeed, life in the Kingdom would be impossible without access to a vehicle. With the exception of the passenger rail service between Riyadh and Dammam, taxis and a few bus routes, there is currently no public land transport system in the country.

At least in the United States, cities are served by mass transportation systems.

However all this is about to change with metro systems that are being built in Jeddah and Riyadh along with the Saudi Railway Organization’s ambitious plans to link the Kingdom with fast and efficient rail services, including the 450-km Haramain High-Speed Rail Project between Makkah and Madinah via Jeddah.

The question for the metropolitan rail systems, however, is how many people will be prepared to abandon their beloved cars and buy a rail ticket instead? Equally for the cross-country network, will travelers prefer to take to rail rather than use the faster scheduled air services? There is a good argument that air travel, with its early check-in times, occasional delays and the necessary hassle of security arrangements will face a real challenge from the more relaxed, spacious and comfortable alternative provided by rail.

Instead of being exposed to the dictat of air travel the world over, which could best be characterized by the motto “Hurry up and wait” and then merely having a view of clouds at 10,000 meters, travelers can sit back in a comfortable rail seat with plenty of leg room and look out the window at the swiftly-passing countryside. More info