The benefits of train service

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Okaz

If we were able to successfully overcome all the financial and logistics hurdles before establishing this historic national project, the stage of successfully operating the service requires bigger efforts.

I WISH the Public Transport Authority applied more control on the company operating the Haramain Express Train when it comes to setting ticket prices.

The Public Transportation Authority and the Ministry of Transport should look at this project, which cost more than SR60 billion, with a broader outlook than generating profits through selling tickets. If we were able to successfully overcome all the financial and logistics hurdles before establishing this historic national project, the stage of successfully operating the service requires bigger efforts, at least in its initial stages.

The benefits of big transportation projects to the national economy are greater than the returns from operating them. I believe that if we operated and marketed this project in a smart way, it will have additional benefits, as long as they do not resort to the easy way out as adopted by train operators around the world, which is to increase the cost of tickets.

Any such increase in the price of tickets should be only to cover the cost of construction and operation. At the same time, other relevant factors should not be ignored.

For example, if the price is too high, consumers will look for alternative transportation means. Another factor is the average income of individuals and families, which is not taken into account when fixing the cost of tickets. Major economic and social factors affecting the economic growth of Makkah and Madinah also cannot be ignored.

I think we are going to change the pricing policy and it is only a matter of time. If we review this project within the lofty goals and targets of Vision 2030 even without looking at the main goal of providing a service that will benefit both residents and pilgrims alike, there are other great benefits that can be accrued. It will save millions of barrels of oil and it will reduce the number of car accidents on the Kingdom’s highways. It will make commuting between Makkah, Jeddah, Madinah and King Abdullah Economic City much easier.

It will increase the volume of pilgrim traffic between Makkah and Madinah. Pilgrims can choose a city in the middle as a place to stop over, such as Jeddah or King Abdullah Economic City, and then continue their journey to Makkah and Madinah to complete their rituals and then return to their cities on the same day.

The same can be said if the railway line was extended to the city of Taif, which with its moderate climate is a favorite destination for travelers.

I can say that the prices of railway tickets, especially the ones announced as of 2019, surprised the residents of Makkah and Madinah.

The data from of the General Authority for Statistics in 2016, showed that the number of people living in the provinces of Makkah and Madinah exceeded 10 million, of which 55 percent are citizens. Approximately 8 million of these people live in the three main cities of Makkah, Jeddah and Madinah. These are potential customers of Haramain Train who could be using the railway on a daily basis if the operating company offered them competitive prices on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

What I am afraid of is a situation when the trains will be running between Makkah and Madinah, back and forth, with 70 or 80 percent of the seats lying empty because of the pricing policy, which did not study the market conditions carefully, especially at a time when cheaper alternatives are available. I call on the transportation authority to review the pricing policy to accrue maximum benefits from the railway project, including economic and development outcome. The Saudi government has spent huge amounts of money on this ambitious project, which is the pride of the nation, amid adverse economic conditions affecting the region and the world at large.


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