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November 15, 2010

Mecca Metro ready for Hajj pilgrimage

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ONE of the world's most remarkable urban rail projects, Mecca's Al-Mashaaer Al-Mugadassah metro celebrated a milestone today, when carried its first fare-paying passengers. The 18km line has opened in time for the annual Hajj festival, which draws around 2.5 million pilgrims to the holy city each year.

The metro links the pilgrimage sites of Mina, Muzdalifa and Arafat and will initially be worked in driver-operated mode at around 35% of design capacity. Driverless operation will start in the middle of next year, allowing the line to run at its full capacity of 72,000 passengers per hour per direction by the 2011 Hajj, with trains running in convoys of three at 90-second headways.

mecca-metro-opens.jpgCNR Changchun, China, is supplying a fleet of 17 Type A 12-car trains, each capable of accommodating around 3000 passengers. Twelve trains are now in service and the remainder will be delivered by the end of December.

The speed of construction has been equally impressive, and work on the $US 1.8 billion project only began in February 2009. However it has not been without problems for contractor China Railway Construction Company (CRCC), which issued a statement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange last month saying it expects to make a $US 623 million loss on the project.

CRCC claims that the amount of work it was required to undertake increased substantially during the period of construction, compared with the estimated figures at the signing of the contract. It also asserts that works due to be undertaken by the project owner were delayed, and the specification was changed during construction to increase capacity. CRCC says that in order to complete the line on schedule it was forced to commit additional resources to the project, resulting in a sizable loss.

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