32 women have qualified to pilot the high-speed Haramain train in Saudi Arabia. Picture for illustrative purposes. Image Credit: Supplied

Cairo: Saudi Arabia’s first batch of female rail drivers will join in piloting high-speed trains during this year’s annual Hajj pilgrimage, a rail official has said, as the kingdom is enhancing women’s empowerment.

Earlier this month, the Saudi Arabia Railways (SAR) announced the graduation and accreditation of the first group of female rail drivers numbering 32 qualified to pilot the high-speed Haramain train. SAR said their training started last March.

“This year, they will participate in transporting pilgrims to all stations,” a SAR official told Saudi-owned television Al Arabiya. He added that around 72,000 pilgrims will be transported per hour on the express trains as the service will operate at full pre-pandemic capacity.

The 450-km-long service was inaugurated in 2018. The Mecca-Medina journey on Al Haramain train running through the port city of Jeddah takes about two hours.

The service aims to transport 60 million passengers annually.

Saudi Arabia is experiencing a vigorous drive to empower women and engage them in public life.

Women accounted for 37 per cent of the kingdom’s overall labour market last year, Saudi Minister of Human Resources Ahmed Al Rajhi said last week.

In 2018, the kingdom allowed women to drive for the first time in its history, ending a decades-old ban on female driving.

In another move enhancing women’s empowerment, Saudi Arabia allowed women to travel without a male guard’s approval and to apply for a passport, easing long-time controls on them.

Two female ambassadors were among 11 Saudi envoys, who took the oath of office before King Salman bin Abdulaziz this month.

The latest appointments took to five the total number of Saudi Arabia’s women ambassadors.

In 2019, Princess Reema bint Bandar was appointed as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, becoming the first woman in the kingdom’s history to serve as ambassador.