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Saudi Arabia unveils its Luxury Train Service

 

Traversing the desert may soon become a more glamorous experience.
The state-owned railway company, Saudi Arabia Railways (SAR), has recently entered into a 200 million Saudi riyals (USD 53.33 million) agreement with the Italian hospitality firm Arsenale Group to introduce the inaugural luxury train in the Middle Eastern kingdom.

Since officially welcoming international tourists in 2019, Saudi Arabia has actively pursued initiatives to attract visitors. Described as a historic moment, the Middle Eastern kingdom has continued its efforts to entice tourists.

Among the notable tourism investments, a USD 500 billion model city in the northwest desert of Saudi Arabia stands out in recent years.

Luxury Train Cruise

As per Saudi Arabia’s state-run media, the upcoming train is set to commence operations in late 2025. Known as “Dream of the Desert,” this luxury train will provide “luxury train cruise” experiences from the capital city of Riyadh to Qurayyat, located near the northern border with Jordan, as detailed in a press release issued by SAR last week.

The 1,300-kilometer route will traverse Saudi Arabia’s breathtaking desert landscapes, including the city of Hail.

Designed with inspiration drawn from “Saudi style and tradition,” the “fully-customized” trains, comprising 40 luxury cabins, are currently in the construction phase. Reservations for these unique train experiences are set to open by the end of the year.

The offerings include one or two-night trips, and the trains have a maximum capacity of 82 passengers, as stated by Paolo Barletta, CEO of Arsenale. He expressed anticipation for the debut of the Dream of the Desert carriages, with the initial production stages underway in Italy, and the first train expected to grace the kingdom in the coming years, as per an official statement.

Eco-friendly Option

Saudi Arabia’s entry into the luxury train market aligns with the global trend of growing demand for high-speed trains and indulgent “rail cruises.”

Numerous nations are channeling significant investments, ranging from millions to billions in some instances, towards developing new infrastructure, driven by customers’ increasing preference for sustainable alternatives to short-haul travel and congested highways.

President Joe Biden of the United States has committed USD 30 billion to fund rail projects and enhancements nationwide. Simultaneously, France, as reported by Reuters, aims to fortify its rail network with an investment of approximately EUR 100 billion (USD 106 billion) in train travel by 2040.

The launch of the Saudi service is anticipated to occur roughly a year after the introduction of “Orient Express – La Dolce Vita,” a collaborative venture between Arsenale Group and the Accor Group.

Train travel signifies the more environmentally sustainable option for transportation, enriching journeys to both major cities and small to medium-sized destinations with captivating cultural sites and landscapes,” stated Luigi Corradi, CEO and General Manager of Trenitalia, a division of Italy’s state railway company Ferrovie dello Stato, in a statement.

“The announcement of the imminent arrival of Dream of the Desert follows nearly six years after the inauguration of Saudi Arabia’s Haramain High-Speed Railway in 2018. The Haramain High-Speed Railway links the holy cities of Mecca and Medina with King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.

Investment in Infrastructure

With the capability to propel trains at speeds reaching up to 300 kph (186 mph), the envisioned rail network is anticipated to eventually span the entirety of the Middle Eastern kingdom.

In addition to this, upgrades are underway for existing lines in the country’s northwest, with the promise of more high-speed services in the future.

In January 2022, Saudi Arabia’s Investment Minister, Khalid al-Falih, unveiled plans for the construction of an extensive 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles) of rail across the entire country.

As the Middle Eastern kingdom pursues its ambitions to rejuvenate the tourism sector, diversify its economy, and diminish its dependence on oil revenue, further developments are likely to be disclosed in the upcoming months.

Saudi Arabia is set to inject more than USD 800 billion into the tourism sector over the next decade, with the goal of attracting 70 million international tourists annually by 2030.

Ongoing initiatives include the creation of a new upscale regenerative tourism destination along the Red Sea coast and the construction of the futuristic city NEOM, emerging entirely in the desert of northwest Saudi Arabia. The UNWTO reports a remarkable 56% surge in international arrivals in 2023 compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

The Saudi Railway Company is firmly committed to the government’s Saudi Vision 2030 program, which seeks to diversify the country’s economy in the next ten years. Emphasising the tourism and culture sector as a primary objective, the company aligns itself with this pivotal developmental vision.

Bashar bin Khaled Al Malik, CEO of SAR, expresses confidence that Dream of the Desert will be a significant enhancement for the company. He envisions the luxury train providing both visitors and residents with the opportunity to explore various regions of the kingdom within an integrated framework of luxurious transportation services.

It might even aspire to compete with Seven Stars in Kyushu, one of Japan’s most luxurious trains. The answer remains uncertain for now, but SAR harbors high expectations for this concept.

According to Al Malik, the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between SAR and Arsenale signifies the initial step toward introducing a novel offering in the tourism market—a luxurious train travel experience.

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