Saudi Arabia has launched the second phase of a landmark train project that was partly launched for the first time in the history of the sacred city during last month’s annual Muslim pilgrimage, the local media reported on Sunday.
A Chinese company which had won the contract started the second stage of expansion just after nearly two million Muslim pilgrims from outside the Gulf Kingdom ended their annual rituals and returned home.
“The Chinese company is racing against time to complete the second stage of the train project before the next Haj (pilgrimage) season in 2011…the second stage includes construction of new stations at some holy sties and more rail roads so it will operate at near full capacity next year,” Sharq daily said.
It said the train operated at 35 per cent of its capacity during the last pilgrimage season in mid November, adding that it involved nine trains comprising 12 cars each, with each of the cars having a capacity of 150 passengers.
The train began service for the first time last month with the transport of more than 700,000 passengers through the week-ling pilgrimage.
Officials have said the train has a capacity to transport 170,000 passengers a day in its first stage and two million when the final phase is completed.
Saudi Arabia has allocated nearly SR6.7 billion (Dh6.6 billion) for the metro, which is intended to ease road congestions caused by the accumulation of thousands of cars near Makkah, Islam’s holiest shrine.
Dubbed the “Holy Rituals Train”, 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 Makkah.
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.
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.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s oil powerhouse, has spent more than SR20bn on development projects in Makkah over the past few years following an increase in accidents and criticism over lack of proper services for pilgrims.
The projects involved the construction of buildings on top of a surrounding hill, a massive clock tower, expansion of the area on top of the holy Mount Arafat, development of the sewage and fire-fighting systems, upgrading health and transportation services and a SR4.2 billion expansion of the space and roads leading to where Muslims perform Ramy Aljamarat (stoning of the devil), the scene of some deadly accidents over the past few years.
Please write: COMMENT in this box to verify that you are human