JNN 10 Oct 2012 Mecca : To minimise the risk of overcrowding and to lessen congestion on the roads the authorities will for the first time be operating a Chinese-built train that will call at hajj sites. The £1.1bn project has 12 miles of track and will transport 180,000 passengers, said Habib Zein al-Abideen, the assistant minister for municipal and rural affairs.
“We will have a capacity of 72,000 passengers per hour next year. This year we operate at 35% capacity. Next year we could have 500,000 to 600,000 passengers,” Abideen said. Due to its limited capacity, the train will this year only carry residents of Saudi Arabia or other Gulf Arabs and next year will open to other nationalities.
It was announced yesterday that Muslims wishing to use Mecca’s first metro when they converge on the holy city next month for their annual pilgrimage will have to pay SR250 for a ticket that will serve them for seven days.
Three different types of tickets will cover all holy sites in Mecca and will allow the pilgrims to take the train into the city to perform their rites before returning to their residence inside or outside the city, Ajel online newspaper said, quoting Habib Zain Alabidin, Undersecretary at the Saudi Ministry of Municipal affairs.
“The ticket’s price is set at SR250 (US$ 67) that will cover a full trip into and out of Mecca for seven days…another ticket is priced at SR100 (US$ 27) for four days,” he said.
Officials said last week the train has a capacity to transport 170,000 passengers in its first stage and two million when the third and final phase is completed.
Saudi Arabia has allocated nearly SR6.7 billion (US$ 1.8 billion) for the metro, which begins continuous service next month for the first time in Mecca’s history. Officials expect the project to largely contribute to easing road congestions caused by the accumulation of thousands of cars near Makkah.
Habib Zain Alabidin says the railway would operate throughout the year.
The project is part of a costly programme by Saudi Arabia to tackle massive traffic congestions in and around the city and facilitate access to all sacred sites in Mecca.
The train project, initiated three years ago, followed a series of incidents that have killed thousands of pilgrims in stampedes, building collapses and other accidents during the few days of the Haj season.
More than two million Muslims from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Co-operation Council countries and other nations descend on Mecca every year to perform the pilgrimage.
China Railway Construction Corp, part of a Saudi-French-Chinese consortium which won the contract, is carrying out the project, involving nearly 5,000 workers. The train is the Gulf’s second metro system after the Dubai Metro.
The hajj, one of the world’s biggest displays of mass religious devotion, lasts for five days. In the past it has been marred by fires, hotel collapses, police clashes with protesters and deadly stampedes.
Islam is followed by a quarter of the world’s population and the hajj is a duty for all able-bodied Muslims who can afford it once in their lifetime. Many wait for years to get a visa. “I can’t explain the feeling of being here,” said Mahboob Bangosh, a Canadian pilgrim from Toronto of Afghan origin.