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Mecca expands public transport as Eid al-Adha nears

French transport company Systra has been contracted by the Royal Commission to conduct a study on expanding Mecca's train system SPA
French transport company Systra is conducting a study on expanding Mecca's train system
  • 400 buses operating from stations
  • Extra taxi services and scooter routes
  • Plans to expand Mecca Metro

Authorities in Mecca are expanding the public transport system to accommodate more pilgrims from abroad as the Hajj season reaches its climax next week with Eid al-Adha. 

The Royal Commission for Mecca City and the Holy Sites said this week it was providing 400 buses operating from four main stations around the city to manage the pilgrim traffic. 

It also said it would provide extra taxi stands for the Careem ride-hailing service and introduce three dedicated routes for scooters to move between the pilgrimage sites. 

French transport company Systra has been contracted by the Royal Commission to conduct a feasibility study on expanding Mashaer – the shuttle train that covers the holy sites – to connect the whole city. 

“Systra is leading a joint venture to prepare the future of the [Mecca] Metro,” it said, adding that the existing train line would be “complemented by a complete network designed to carry pilgrims and residents beyond the Mashaaer sites all year round”. 

The Mashaaer line will start ferrying pilgrims on Friday, the eighth day of the Islamic month of Dhulhijjah, to the plain of Arafat outside Mecca, according to the Hajj rites. 

Systra added that any transport proposals would need to take account of the city’s recent expansion. 

The government’s National Housing Company is building five residential districts aimed at the Saudi middle class in the city, which lies in the mountains in the hinterland of Jeddah. 

Public Investment Fund giga-project company Roshn is building an upscale district called Almanara. Luxury high rises containing hotels and apartments have been built around the Grand Mosque by Saudi developer Jabal Omar. 

The 2022 census recorded Mecca’s population as 2.3 million people, up from 1.6 million in 2015, but the number swells during the Hajj season. 

Official statistics put the number of Hajj pilgrims last year at 1.84 million, down from a high of 2.5 million in 2019. That included only 184,000 from inside Saudi Arabia. 

The government is trying to reduce the number of Saudi nationals and foreign residents who take part in the rituals without a permit, introducing new fines and deportation penalties this year. 

At least 769 people died in a stampede during the Hajj in 2015, though an independent count put the death toll at 1,470. A crane collapse two weeks earlier killed 111. 

The health ministry said this week it would be a “major challenge” to ensure pilgrim safety during expected daytime temperatures of 45C to 48C.

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