Saudi Arabia’s Haramain High Speed Railway Eases Pilgrim Travel Between Makkah, Madinah

With a capacity for 60 million passengers a year and speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour, the Haramain High Speed Railway meets the increasing demand for transportation services in Saudi Arabia. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
With a capacity for 60 million passengers a year and speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour, the Haramain High Speed Railway meets the increasing demand for transportation services in Saudi Arabia. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Saudi Arabia’s Haramain High Speed Railway Eases Pilgrim Travel Between Makkah, Madinah

With a capacity for 60 million passengers a year and speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour, the Haramain High Speed Railway meets the increasing demand for transportation services in Saudi Arabia. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
With a capacity for 60 million passengers a year and speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour, the Haramain High Speed Railway meets the increasing demand for transportation services in Saudi Arabia. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Pilgrims arriving in Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj season will benefit from a well-organized transportation system. The system ensures pilgrims safe and comfortable travel between Makkah and Medina, enhancing their spiritual journey.

In the past, pilgrims traveled between Makkah and Madinah on camelback, a journey that took almost 10 days. Now, with cars and buses, it’s down to about 6 hours.

But with the “Haramain High Speed Railway,” pilgrims can make the trip in just 135 minutes.

Once on board, pilgrims have everything they need for a comfortable journey, allowing them to focus on their worship and prayers. The railway project, one of the largest in the Middle East, is providing around 1.6 million seats on 3,800 trips for pilgrims and visitors this Hajj season.

The train stations in Makkah and Madinah are conveniently located near the holy sites.

With a capacity for 60 million passengers a year and speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour, the railway meets the increasing demand for transportation services.

At the train stations in the al-Sulaymaniyah district and King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat observed smooth passenger traffic. Local staff warmly welcomed the pilgrims, assisting them with inquiries and guiding them to departure lounges while informing them of train schedules.

Passenger journeys start with quick procedures, checking reservations and luggage allowances. Passengers then move to the departure lounge and to their seats, which are comfortable with individual screens.

The train provides services for business class and support for passengers with special needs.

Operations run with 35 electric trains, each carrying up to 417 passengers. These trains have 13 carriages, five for business class and eight for economy, all equipped with food vending carts.

Many travelers praised the top-notch care they received upon arriving in Saudi Arabia, highlighting the Haramain High Speed Railway.

The pilgrims appreciated the “excellent and outstanding” services that made traveling between the two holy cities easier.

E-services let travelers book early, check schedules, and choose departure stations.

The smooth running of train journeys and punctual schedules across different stations show how well the teams manage the numerous daily trips along the electric railway track.

Stations are located in Makkah, Madinah, al-Sulaymaniyah district, King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, and King Abdullah Economic City station in the Rabigh governorate.

The stations’ architectural design is inspired by the landmarks of Makkah and Madinah, reflecting their Islamic and unique architectural styles. The stations offer various traveler services like parking, e-booking, ticket counters, and assistance desks.

The station at King Abdulaziz International Airport is the world’s largest airport-connected train station, covering over 105,000 square meters with multiple floors and six platforms, making it easy for travelers heading to Makkah or Madinah.

Since its launch in 2018, the Haramain High Speed Railway’s success has made booking, scheduling, and travel between the holy sites easier for a growing number of passengers.

Built with high-quality standards and safety features, the train plays a crucial role in Saudi Arabia’s railway network development and expansion plan.



What is China's Panda Diplomacy and How Does it Work?

Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide on June 16, 2024. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / POOL / AFP)
Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide on June 16, 2024. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / POOL / AFP)
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What is China's Panda Diplomacy and How Does it Work?

Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide on June 16, 2024. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / POOL / AFP)
Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide on June 16, 2024. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / POOL / AFP)

During a visit to Australia this week, Chinese Premier Li Qiang made a classic goodwill gesture that boded well for relations between the two countries: he offered to send pandas.
The offer comes as ties between Australia and its largest trading partner improve after a diplomatic dispute that led to China imposing a raft of restrictions on Australian agricultural and mineral exports in 2020.
Native to China, pandas have through the years become "envoys of friendship", earning China's outreach to countries it gifts the animals to the name of panda diplomacy, Reuters said.
They have also been used to show Chinese anger.
So what is panda diplomacy and how does it work?
WHEN DID PANDA DIPLOMACY START?
Since its founding in 1949, the People's Republic of China has used panda diplomacy to boost its international image, either by gifting or lending panda to foreign zoos as goodwill animal ambassadors.
Former Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1957 gifted a panda, Ping Ping, to the former Soviet Union to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution that ushered in the Soviet regime.
To further cement ties with its socialist allies, China dispatched another panda to the Soviet Union in 1959 and five more to North Korea between 1965 and 1980.
In 1972, Beijing gifted two pandas, Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, to the United States after then President Richard Nixon's historic visit, in a sign of normalized China-US relations and marking a pivotal moment for China's foreign policy.
Since then, other countries including Japan, France, Britain and Spain have also been given panda.
WHAT'S THE PANDA DIPLOMACY POLICY?
Since 1984, China stopped gifting pandas due to their dwindling numbers and began loaning them to overseas zoos instead, often in pairs for 10 years, with an annual fee of up to about $1 million.
While keeping pandas can be costly for zoos, they are seen as drawcards for visitors and help generate income.
The pandas typically return home to southwest China after the loan agreement ends. Panda cubs born overseas are no exception, and would be sent home between the age of two and four to join a Chinese breeding program.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
China has a history of using pandas to reward its trading partners. A 2013 Oxford University study said the timing of China's lease of pandas to Canada, France and Australia "coincided with" uranium deals and contracts with these countries.
The panda agreements with other countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, also coincided with the signing of free-trade agreements.
Sometimes, pandas are also used to express China's displeasure with a nation.
In 2010, China recalled two US-born pandas, Tai Shan and Mei Lan, after Beijing warned Washington against a scheduled meeting between then-President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama, which Beijing views as a dangerous separatist.
In a recent downturn in bilateral ties, Ya Ya, on loan to the US for 20 years, was returned in April 2023.
Concerns over her health had also fanned nationalist sentiment on China's social media, with animal advocates accusing the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee of providing inadequate care to the animal.
In November last year, three other pandas left, leaving only four giant pandas on US soil.
That month, Chinese President Xi Jinping then hinted that he was open to sending more pandas to the US after meeting with President Joe Biden in California, a gesture seen as Chinese willingness to improve ties.
ARE PANDAS STILL ENDANGERED?
China's domestic conservation programs have seen the status of pandas improve from endangered to vulnerable.
The population of giant pandas in the wild has grown from around 1,100 in the 1980s to 1,900 in 2023.
There are currently 728 pandas in zoos and breeding centers around the world.