A high speed rail link between Saudi Arabia’s holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which is set to be completed by late 2012, will cut a several-hour-long bus journey down to a two–hour train ride, particularly easing pilgrimage traffic during the Hajj, which usually takes place in November, and during Ramadan, which takes place in late summer.

The 450km Haramain High Speed Rail line will have five stations: Mecca, Medina, Jeddah, the King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) and at the King Abdul Aziz International Airport. Saudi Railways has separate plans for a less speedy connection to Riyadh called the Land Bridge, which will carry freight as well as passengers.

Four of the five high speed rail stations will be built by architects Foster and Partners and Buro Happold, and last month, the 6.7 billion euro contract to construct the high speed rail and provide 35 trains was awarded to a Spanish-Saudi consortium. The trains are expected to run at speeds of 320kph and carry 166,000 passengers a day.

The timeline for the project could change, as the Saudi government recently revealed that 90% of the buildings that need to be expropriated to make way for the rail line have unknown owners. The search for these landlords might delay the project.