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Saudi reveals tram project to drive AlUla tourism ambitions

AlUla, in the north west of Saudi Arabia, was founded in the 6th century BC Creative Commons
AlUla, in the north west of Saudi Arabia, was founded in the 6th century BC

Saudi Arabia has unveiled plans to build a new tram system as they aim to develop AlUla as a major international tourism destination.

The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) said the tram will connect all of AlUla’s most important landmarks, archaeological sites, tourist destinations, urban areas and transport infrastructure.

The first phase of the system will be designed by the international mobility firm SYSTRA, which will take the lead on systems integration and the design of rolling stock resembling carriages from the historic Hijaz railway which passed through the AlUla valley while transporting passengers from Damascus in Syria to Madinah in Saudi Arabia.

Once its two phases are complete the tram network will stretch for more than 50km.

Phase one of the project will run from the historic AlUla Central Hijaz railway station to Hegra, the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the north.

Connecting major tourist areas and important archaeological sites, the northern red line will provide easy links to core locations highlighted as part of RCU’s comprehensive Journey Through Time route plan and its vision to promote and protect AlUla’s heritage landmarks.

At 21km in length this section will act as a catalyst for future developments, with stations to be constructed at Hegra South, Equestrian Village North and Equestrian Village South, Nabataean Farms, Al Uthayb, the Incense Museum, Jabal Ikmah, Tal Al Khatib, Dadan North, Dadan Village and Dadan, Al Jadidah, Old Town, AlUla Central East and AlUla Hijaz.

The second phase of the tram will extend to the south of AlUla with an additional 33km of track running to the international airport.

Paris-based SYSTRA will begin its design work this year with completion in 2023. 

The AlUla tram, with a maximum speed of 50 km per hour, aims to reduce people’s dependency on personal cars or diesel buses.

Introduced earlier this year in the Old Town, an autonomous pods service has proved to be a success with residents and visitors. 

The tram, the pods and a growing network of electric buses, cycle paths and alternative transport options are in line with RCU’s commitment to make AlUla net carbon-neutral by 2035 for local emissions, excluding air travel and food imports.

“The new tram service is an exciting development that will greatly empower AlUla’s continuous growth,” Moataz Kurdi, RCU’s chief county operations officer, said.

“The low-emission service will follow a carefully planned rail line connecting AlUla’s main tourist and heritage sites allowing people to move freely and easily without the need to rely on buses or personal cars.

“Created to be an experience as much as a means of getting around passengers will enjoy incredible views of the surrounding landscape, growing urban developments, cultural sites and world-famous heritage areas in complete ease and comfort.”

Belal Deiranieh, CEO for SYSTRA in Saudi Arabia, added: “We are humbled to be working alongside the Royal Commission for AlUla to design a tram system which aligns with RCU’s vision and provides passengers with a unique and immersive experience, in the heart of this remarkable cultural and heritage destination, while taking into consideration innovation, environment, and RCU’s low carbon initiative.

“We look forward to mobilising our global expertise and local know-how and starting the journey with RCU.”

Located 1,100km from Riyadh, AlUla covers 22,561 sq km and includes a lush oasis valley, towering sandstone mountains and ancient cultural heritage sites dating back thousands of years to when the Lihyan and Nabataean kingdoms reigned.

The most well-known and recognised site in AlUla is Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site.

A 52-hectare ancient city, Hegra was the principal southern city of the Nabataean Kingdom and is comprised of more than 100 well preserved tombs with elaborate facades cut out of the sandstone outcrops surrounding the walled urban settlement.

Current research also suggests Hegra was the most southern outpost of the Roman Empire after conquering the Nabataeans.

In addition to Hegra, AlUla is home to historical and archaeological sites such as Ancient Dadan, the capital of the Dadan and Lihyan Kingdoms; thousands of ancient rock art sites and inscriptions at Jabal Ikmah; Old Town, a labyrinth of more than 900 mudbrick homes developed from at least the 12th century; and Hijaz Railway and Hegra Fort, key sites in the story and conquests of Lawrence of Arabia.

RCU was established by royal decree in July 2017 to protect and safeguard AlUla and it is embarking on a long-term plan to develop and deliver a sustainable transformation of the region.

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