New train line to ease Muslims’ holy journey
MINA, Saudi Arabia — Some Muslims beginning the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia yesterday have a new way to avoid the crowds: an elevated light-rail train that will whisk them between holy sites.
The four-day Islamic pilgrimage draws around 2.5 million worshipers each year, and the large numbers present authorities with a challenge in preventing stampedes at holy sites, fires in pilgrim encampments, and the spread of disease.
Officials hope the new 11-mile train line, which is reserved for Saudis and citizens of other gulf nations until it becomes fully operational next year, will alleviate crowding.
The first phase of the train project, called the Mecca Metro, will transport pilgrims between Mina, Arafat, and Muzdalifa — three stops during the pilgrims’ journey that trace the steps of the Prophet Muhammad and Abraham. Muslims believe Abraham built the ancient structure in Mecca’s Grand Mosque known as the Kaaba.
The lime-green cars zoom along an elevated rail, passing over the permanent white tents where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims spend the night on the way to the major sites.
There are now 12 trains, each with a capacity of 3,000 people, said train operator Ahmed Hosny.
It will begin a limited service today, operating at around 33 percent of its expected capacity.
The $2 billion train was constructed by a Chinese company. About 100 Egyptians have been brought in to help operate the train during this year’s hajj because of their experience running Cairo’s trains.
The new train will replace thousands of buses that shuttle pilgrims between the holy sites, reducing pollution as well as traffic congestion.