Every year, millions of Muslims descend on the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca to take part in the Hajj, an annual pilgrimage that all able-bodied adherents are required to undertake at least once in their lifetime.
Figures from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia claim that more than three million pilgrims took part in the Hajj in 2012. Crowd control is a critical issue, as is the logistical planning involved in moving such large crowds of people. As part of their efforts to accommodate this large movement of devotees, the Saudi authorities have implemented a number of transit projects that are either in operation or ongoing. The dream of connecting the holy cities and sites of Saudi Arabia is finally becoming a reality.
New rail systems: a blessing for pilgrims, a boon for air quality
Traditionally, transport during the Hajj has principally been by bus. Newer rail-based services will reduce harmful gases emitted from thousands of buses operating during the Hajj week. This pollution causes health problems for pilgrims, especially for those suffering from heart and asthma related diseases.
The Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah metro line was opened in 2010 just in time for the Hajj. It claims the highest capacity of any metro in the world, and transports pilgrims between holy sites in Mecca, Mount Arafat, Muzdalifah and Mina and greatly reduces congestion caused by buses and cars. Each 12-car train can carry 3,000 passengers and the system can operate at a capacity of approximately 24 trains per hour.
The Mecca Metro
The Mecca Metro, officially known as Makkah Mass Rail Transit, is a planned four-line metro system for the city of Mecca that was announced in 2012 that will complement the Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro. The four metro lines will cover 182 km and comprise 88 stations and the entire expansion project is set to take 10 years. The four new lines are to be built in three phases, with work due to start in 2015. Line A is set to cover 27.7 km and comprise 18 stations; Line B will cover 11.9 km and 7 stations, Line C will cover 28.3 km and 17 stations; while Line D will cover 35.2 km and 19 stations.
The metro network is part of the 62bn riyal Makkah Public Transport Programme which includes integrated bus services. These new developments are in addition to the Haramain High Speed Rail project also known as the ‘Western Railway’ or ‘Mecca-Medina high speed railway’, a 449.2-kilometre high-speed inter-city rail transport system currently under construction that will link the Muslim holy cities of Medina and Mecca via King Abdullah Economic City, Rabigh, Jeddah, and King Abdulaziz International Airport. It will also connect with the national network at Jeddah.
The rail line is planned to provide a safe and comfortable transport in 320 kilometres per hour. Construction started in March 2009 and the railway is expected to carry three million passengers a year. It is planned to be ready by December 2016.