The new line would have a design speed of 350km/h to enable trains to operate at a maximum of 320km/h. Options to be studied include building the line parallel to the existing main line via Hofuf or along a more direct alignment connecting the airports serving the two cities, with the possibility of extending the line into each city centre to access the existing stations. SRO says it is keen to minimise land acquisition in urban areas.

A journey time of between 1h 30min and 1h 45min is envisaged. This compares with the 4h 20min journey time on the existing 449km line. However, SRO is currently upgrading the existing line by doubling the track and increasing the line speed from 140km/h to 160km/h initially and 180km/h by the end of 2014. This will enable SRO to achieve a 3h 10min journey time.

SRO currently operates five round trips a day between Riyadh and Dammam, mainly using a fleet of eight diesel trains supplied by CAF. Another four trains are under construction which should enter service by late 2014, and SRO is out to tender for an additional four trains. SRO plans to step up the service to a two-hourly frequency.

In addition, SRO is evaluation 20 bids for a contract to double the track on the 390km Riyadh – Haradh – Hofuf freight line.

Saudi Arabia's first high-speed project, the 450km Haramain line linking Medina, Jeddah and Mecca in the west of the country, is under construction and is scheduled to open in 2016.