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Italian travel company to invest $75m in Saudi luxury train

Paolo Barletta, CEO of Arsenale, with Saudi Arabia Railways chief Bashar Al Malik Supplied
Paolo Barletta, CEO of Arsenale, with Saudi Arabia Railways chief Bashar Al Malik
  • Arsenale Group and Saudi Arabia Railways link up to offer ‘rail cruising’
  • Dream of the Desert service scheduled to start in November 2025

An Italian hospitality company is investing around €70 million ($75 million) to develop the first luxury train for “rail cruising” across Saudi Arabia.

Arsenale Group has signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia Railways to introduce the train on a 770-mile route from Riyadh to the northern city of Al Qurayat, close to the border with Jordan.

CEO Paolo Barletta told AGBI the Dream of the Desert train would provide Orient Express-style luxury travel.

“The Orient Express told us back in the days what a train could do, what a train could mean for tourism. Unfortunately, for many years the rail network has been abandoned from the investment and luxury tourism side as people preferred planes,” Barletta said.

In Italy, Arsenale is working with Accor, which owns the Orient Express brand, and the country’s rail operator to develop a service called the Orient Express La Dolce Vita. Its six trains are due to start running in 2024.

The Dream of the Desert train, which will have 40 luxury cabins and a maximum capacity of 80 passengers, is due to arrive in Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2025, with the first paying guests scheduled to depart in November 2025.

Arsenale will invest €50 million in the engine and carriages. “The heaviest investment is of course the train,” said Barletta.

A further €20 million will be spent on setting up in Saudi, including hiring and launching commercial operations.

The route will take passengers from the capital through Al Qassim and the historic Hail, skirting the King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Royal National Reserve to Al Qarayat.

“We believe this train will give the people in Saudi Arabia and international tourists the chance to visit one of the most beautiful parts of the kingdom,” he added. “This is the reason why one of the first countries we targeted was Saudi Arabia.”

“It’s a challenging project but the rail network is there,” said Barletta.

Bashar Al Malik, CEO of Saudi Arabia Railways, said the agreement was “a first step towards debuting another unique tourism solution”.

Tourism is a key plank of the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 strategy. By the end of the decade, the kingdom wants the sector to contribute more than 10 percent of gross domestic product, provide 1.6 million additional job opportunities and attract 100 million visitors each year.