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Saudi Arabia’s first local train driver, Abdulaziz bin Ibrahim Al Dariwish. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Saudi Arabia’s first train driver, Abdulaziz bin Ibrahim Al Dariwish, has died aged 96, local media reported.

Al Dariwish took over as the first locomotive operator of Saudi Arabia’s first rail line, between Riyadh and Dammam, opened in 1951. Previously, the job was limited to Americans.

Saudi Arabia is on track to develop its rail networks as part of a GCC-wide push to ramp up regional transportation, with the high-speed Haramain railway now operating at near-full capacity, Riyadh’s Metro almost complete and another 800km of track, along with sleeping coaches, added to the Kingdom’s North-South railway.

Such projects are helping the country move toward realising the goals of Vision 2030, with transportation a key driver of the economic renaissance that will take place as the Kingdom’s economy moves away from its reliance on oil.

Saudi Arabia’s first rail line was inaugurated by the founder King Abdul Aziz and the late King Saud, who put the nail for the last mile in the track from Dammam to Riyadh.

The Haramain High Speed Railway is another project launched in 2018 by King Salman — a high-tech, state-of-the-art 450km-line connecting five stations between Madinah and Makkah at 300km/hour.

Saudi’s North-South Line, which opened in 2017, added another 800km from the Al Jawf region to Riyadh in November, introducing night trains with sleeping coaches — a first for the country.

Riyadh’s metro construction, spanning 176km serving 85 stations across six lines, is also well under way, with plans for the Riyadh Development Authority to start staged operations and commissioning soon.

There are plans to add more lines to the railway in the future, with a connection between Yanbar Industrial City and the King Abdullah Port by the Red Sea, as well as a 1,150km land bridge linking the Kingdom’s east coast to its west coast.

The GCC rail project within Saudi will cover 628km of the Gulf’s railway plans, connecting the country to Bahrain.

Saudi Railway Polytechnic was established, based in Buraidah Al Qassim, to train drivers, signal technicians, station customer service representatives and others who plan to work in such projects.