Saudi Arabia's new metro system will ease traffic congestion during the annual Haj pilgrimage, a top official has said.
The Haramain High Speed Rail project, which is under construction, will be a 449.2km high-speed inter-city system linking Madinah and Makkah.
Each year three million to four million pilgrims travel to Saudi Arabia to perform the Haj.
During the Haj around two million people come from abroad by air and an estimated one million come by road.
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During this period, Makkah, which has a resident population of 1.7 million, experiences high congestion from the 70,000 vehicles that transport the pilgrims between the sites of the pilgrimage.
"The number of pilgrims is increasing. We have about 70,000 buses moving between [three holy places].
"It's very difficult to transport more than three million pilgrims in a very limited time and space," said Salim Al Bosta of the Central Directorate for Development of Projects at the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs.
"The target group of the metro system will be the pilgrims from inside the country, from the Gulf states and pilgrims coming by land by bus," he added.
Shuttle transport from Arafat to Muzdalifah, which is about 12km, can take six to eight hours, and in some cases up to 10 hours because of the congestion.
Around 25 per cent of pilgrims move between the holy places on foot to avoid spending long hours in vehicles on the roads. In the past, the high density of worshippers has resulted in some pilgrims being trampled to death.
The capacity of the Makkah metro will be 70,000 to 80,000 persons per hour in each direction, while the shuttle bus services reach a capacity of 10,000 persons per hour in each direction. The electric trains will transport pilgrims at a speed of 320 km/h. The system will have nine stations and will cater to the pilgrimage route along Makkah, Mina, Muzdalifah and Jabal Al Rahmah.
"To solve the transport problem to and from Al Mashaaer we need three train lines from Arafat to Muzdalifah to Mina, and in the future to the Grand Mosque," said Al Bosta.
The line will also be built keeping in mind development projects such as the extension of the Grand Mosque.