Image Credit: Gulf News

Riyadh: Tickets for the Makkah Metro (also known as Mashair Metro) will be distributed during October, more than a month before Haj, chairman of the Haj and Umrah committee at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry Sa'ad Jameel Al Qurashi said.

"The tickets will be evenly distributed among Mutawifeen [Haj service providers] and during the next pilgrimage the Metro is expected to transport about 130,000 pilgrims representing about 35 per cent of its total capacity," Al Qurashi said.

Al Qurashi said only pilgrims from within Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf countries would be able to use the Metro initially.

He added that 12 out of the train's 20 cars would be operated for a start. The 12 cars would together carry 3,000 passengers on each trip, he said adding that, when in full swing, the Metro would carry about 72,000 passengers per trip.

"The actual price of tickets has not been decided yet but it is expected to be around 90 Saudi riyals [Dh87.9]," he said.

Al Qurashi said the Metro would be fully operational during the Haj season of 2011 and transport about 500,000 pilgrims by then, a number that would rise to about two million in 2012. "The time of the journey from Arafat to Muzdalifa and Mina is about seven minutes. About 75 per cent of the passengers will be seated and the remaining will be standing," he said.

Record time

The total cost of the project is 6.7 billion riyals. A Chinese company is currently implementing the project using more than 50,000 workers, engineers and technicians. The tracks, stretching a distance of 18.1km, have been elevated to nearly 8 and 10 metres in some areas so as not to obstruct road traffic or the movement of pedestrians between the holy sites of Arafat, Muzdalifa and Mina.

The residents of Makkah may use the Metro to throw stones at Satan.

Al Qurashi said the Chinese company executed the project in record time. "The Department of Holy Sites Projects in the Ministry of Rural and Municipal Affairs is keen to implement all development projects in time so as to benefit the guests of God," he said.

The Chinese Railways Company signed a $144-million (Dh528.7-million) contract with the French company Talis to build the operation and communications systems. The train will run automatically and does not need a driver.

The Al Rajhi Alliance, Al Arab Construction Company and Mohammad Ali Al Swailem (Masco) have been contracted to do the civil works for the project.

Talis and the Bin Laden Group for Contracting last April signed a $453-million with the Saudi government to build a railway line linking the northern and southern regions of the kingdom by 2012. Saudi Arabia currently has 850km of railroads linking Riyadh with Dammam in the east.

An additional 950km of rail tracks will be added to link Jeddah, in the western region, with Riyadh and another 115-km-long track will link Dammam with the industrial city of Jubail.

The kingdom has also started executing a 1,300-km railway line that begins in the northwestern part of the country and will cut through Al Jouf, Hail and Qasim to connect Riyadh. Authorities are also considering the establishment of a railway line in the southern region in addition to the GCC railway project.