Dubai: Performing Haj and Umrah will be easier once the Makkah Metro Project is complete by 2011, a senior official said.

"We have started construction on the first line of the Makkah Metro system which is aimed at easing traffic congestion in Makkah and to provide easy transport facilities to people performing Haj and Umrah," Dr Habib Zein Al Abideen, First Deputy Minister and Head of Central Directorate for Project Development at the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, said.

Speaking at the Mena Rail 2009 conference in Dubai on Monday, Dr Al Abideen said the metro will link the Kaa'ba (The Great Mosque), Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa - places which Hajis have to visit to complete their Haj (pilgrimage).

"We will start carrying 35 per cent of the Hajis in the Makkah Metro during the next Haj in 2010 while the project will be fully operation in 2011," he said.

Dr Al Abideen said that there would be total of five lines to carry five million Hajis in future. "The first line will be able to carry at least half a million Hajis by 2011," he added.

China Railway Company has been awarded the project which will cost 6.65 billion riyals.

Around 3.5 million people perform Haj every year and the number is expected to grow to five million in future. Some 70,000 vehicles are used to transport pilgrims.

"Once the metro is in place, we expect to reduce the vehicles by at least 50 per cent," he said.

Dr Al Abideen said the metro will be extended to Jeddah in future and will be linked to the planned National Railway Network.

"Gradually, we will reduce the entrance of vehicles carrying Hajis to Makkah," he added.