Saudi Arabia King Salman inaugurated a $6.7 billion high-speed railway Tuesday that will link the two holiest cities in Islam, as the country seeks to bolster its tourism industry in the face of declining oil revenues.
The 450-kilometer Haramain railway is one of the largest transportation projects in the Middle East, with a projected annual target of 60 million passengers. It will reduce the time required to travel between Mecca and Medina by half.
The railway will eventually link to a new terminal being built at the airport in the coastal city of Jeddah, streamlining travel for visiting pilgrims.
The project is part of Saudi Arabia's recent appeal to tourists. The government has poured billions into new hotels and a restoration of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
The Grand Mosque is the ultimate destination of the Hajj, an annual pilgrimage to Mecca that all adult Muslims are required to make at least once in their lifetime, and the Umrah, a nonmandatory pilgrimage that can be undertaken any time of the year.
Muslims visiting Mecca account for the majority of Saudi Arabia's 20 million annual foreign visitors.
Saudi officials hope their efforts will boost the number of Hajj visitors to 5 million annually by 2020, and Umrah visitors to 30 million annually by 2030.