Saudi Arabia has begun construction work on its long awaited first metro rail system in the capital Riyadh.
The multi-billion project will involve six rail lines extending 176 kilometers and carrying electric, driverless trains, in what Saudi officials project to be the world's largest public transport system.
Prince Khalid bin Bandar, the Riyadh emir, attended a groundbreaking ceremony in the capital on Thursday to mark the first day of construction work.
“On this blessed day we witness the start of works on the grounds of the metro project. The phase of research and planning is over and now it is time for implementation, and we call for God's help,” said Prince Khalid bin Bandar, Reuters reported.
Saudi Arabia awarded $22.5 billion in contracts to three foreign-led consortia for the design and construction of the system.
While the metro is unlikely to persuade some Saudis to abandon their love for the automobile, others may welcome the chance to escape severe traffic congestion in the capital. The new service will also enable lower-income individuals to head around the city.
The metros may also make it easier for women to move around, in a country where they are not allowed to drive. The metro carriages will have special family sections giving women privacy.
The project, which is expected to be completed in 2019, is estimated to require tens of thousands of workers in the oil-rich kingdom.
The Saudi government is also planning to modernize the transport system in the Islamic holy city of Makkah, including the creation of a bus network and a metro system.
The kingdom is also building numerous other rail systems to upgrade its infrastructure, including a 2,750 kilometer line running from Riyadh to near the northern border with Jordan.
Riyadh’s population was projected to grow from 6 million to over 8 million in the next 10 years, making the metro vital to ease congestion and pollution in the capital's streets, according to Saudi officials.