The first railway in the Arabian peninsula was the 1050mm gauge Hejaz Railway from Damascus to Medina. Construction started in 1900, and the line reached Al Madinah (Medina) in 1908. It was proposed to continue the line to Makkah (Mecca), but this section was never constructed. Ostensibly a line to carry pilgrims on the Hajj, commentators have seen its real purpose as a political tool to bring the Hejaz region more closely within the Ottoman fold. Whatever the facts, the southern section of the railway was largely destroyed during the First World War (not least owing to the actions of Arab tribesmen led by T E Lawrence - better known as Lawrence of Arabia). The line south of what was to become the Jordanian border never reopened. A few derelict sections of track remain; stations at Madinah and Mada’in Saleh are preseved as museums, each having some locomotives and rolling stock from the original railway.
The country remained without railways until 1951, when a 15km standard (1435mm) gauge line opened between the port of Dammam and warehouses at Dhahran. This was later extended to Riyadh, a distance of 450km. In 1985, another line was opened on a longer but more easily graded route between Riyadh and Al Hofuf, from where it paralleled the existing line to Dammam, a total distance of 556km. This line is used exclusively for freight services, high quality passenger services continue to operate on the original route.
Ambitious projects for major new railways were put in hand in the early part of the 21st century. The 1400km North South Railway from Al Jalamid in the north of the country to Ras al Khair on the Gulf coast opened in 2012. Passenger services commenced in 2016. Various extensions to this line are under construction, including one which will link with the existing network at Riyadh. The Haramain High Speed Line between Makkah and Madinah was completed in 2017 and opened for service in 2018. It serves Jeddah, Jeddah Airport and King Abdullah Economic City. Studies are in hand for the Landbridge, a 945km railway from Jeddah to Riyadh, for a high speed line between Riyadh and Dammam, and for various other longer term projects. International links are proposed with Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Flag image from CIA World Factbook