- Title: SAUDI ARABIA: New metro carries 150,000 pilgrims to holy sites during Haj
- Date: 19th November 2010
- Summary: METRO ARRIVING AT MINA STATION SECURITY OFFICERS MONITORING PASSENGERS AT METRO STATION.
- Embargoed: 4th December 2010 12:00
- Location: Saudi Arabia
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Religion,Transport
- Reuters ID: LVA7ZJUXSDJV6IRQLWLZ38I3CBWW
- Story Text: Saudi Arabia launched a railway this week to smoothen transport of Muslims during the annual haj pilgrimage and ease traffic congestion and accidents.
Millions of pilgrims have performed the haj since Sunday (November 14), one of the world's biggest religious gatherings that has been marred in the past by stampedes, accidents, and political demonstrations.
The railway -- the first such project in more than half a century in the top oil exporter -- ferries pilgrims to holy sites outside Mecca to perform rites such as 'stoning of the devil'.
Authorities hope the 6.6 billion riyals project will lessen congestion of the pilgrim route with some 70,000 cars and buses jamming roads.
The haj marks sites that Islamic tradition says Prophet Ibrahim -- biblical patriarch Abraham -- visited in Mecca and that Prophet Mohammad established as a pilgrim route 14 centuries ago after he removing pagan idols from Mecca.
The Chinese-built train is the latest high-tech addition to the haj after Saudi Arabia built electric stairways in the Grand Mosque and showers to cool off pilgrims following the haj route.
The train, for which weekly tickets cost almost $70m, makes stops at the holy sites Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa which are visited by million of pilgrims.
The train, which has a length of 18 kilometers, transported 150,000 passengers this haj, Metro engineer Abduulwahab Al Ghamidi said on Thursday (November 18).
"The main objectives of the project is to reduce the number of cars near the holy sites, with this line, we can reduce the number of cars by 30,000 from the holy sites that's large cars and small cars being used by pilgrims," said Al Ghamidi.
"This year, we transferred 150,000 regular pilgrims from Arafat and Nafrah during the Al Tashreeq days. Next year we hope, god willing, to transport around 72,000 pilgrims an hour. So that's transferring around half a million pilgrims during peak times," added Al Ghamidi.
Egyptian pilgrim Yahya Diyab said he was very satisfied with the service.
"Yes of course, it was a good trial for all of us and the train helped us a lot especially with our babies and nearly we had no effort riding the train, it was better than the bus and walking on our legs," said Diyab.
Apart from a city metro in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched in 2009 the train is the first passenger railway completed on the Arabian Peninsula for more than half a century.
To improve transport, the six Gulf Arab states have unveiled plans worth billions of dollars to set up a cross-border railway system and city metros but little has happened on the ground.
The only other overland passenger line remains a railway built in the 1950s linking the capital Riyadh and Dammam on the Gulf coast in the eastern province, home to most of Saudi oil wealth.
The railway was built by Saudi oil giant Aramco, owned then by U.S. oil firms.
Saudi Arabia plans to link the Mecca train eventually to Medina, Islam's second holy city, and the Red Sea port of Jeddah where most pilgrims arrive.
Saudi Arabia hopes the train will not only end road congestion but also enliven pilgrimage tourism it cautiously plans to promote as it wants to diversify the economy away from oil.
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