Saudi King Abdullah on Wednesday gave the green light for a high-speed rail link between Islam's holy cities of Mecca and Medina via the commercial hub of Jeddah, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
It said the project, first mooted years ago to help transport the hundreds of thousands of Muslims who visit the kingdom for the annual hajj pilgrimage, will be financed by Saudi investment funds.
The train will travel at up to 300 kilometres (180 miles) per hour, allowing a Mecca-Jeddah journey time of half an hour and Jeddah-Medina in two hours, SPA quoted Transport Minister Jebarah bin Eid al-Suraisri as saying.
The agency did not give an estimated cost or timetable for the project.
Jeddah on the Red Sea is the required port of entry for millions of Muslims performing the year-round Umra, or minor pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.
It is also the port of entry for the main hajj which precedes the annual Feast of the Sacrifice, or Eid al-Adha, and brings together more than two million of the faithful.
Last April the Saudi government awarded three contracts totaling 1.9 billion dollars for the construction of railways covering 1,766 kilometres (1,100 miles).
SPA said at the time the work was expected to take 42 months to complete.
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