Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Train Is Coming (To Mecca)

A Makkah Metro train during a test run. (AN photo)

30-Day Test Run For Makkah Metro
JEDDAH: The newly established Mashair Railway, which links the holy sites of Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa with Makkah, will have a 30-day test run before opening to transport domestic and GCC pilgrims during the upcoming Haj season.
Municipal and Rural Affairs Minister Prince Mansour bin Miteb will inspect the railway (also known as the Makkah Metro) on Tuesday to make sure the facility is ready to transport the guests of God. The railway will bring about a dramatic change in pilgrim transportation between the holy sites.
Established at a cost of SR6.5 billion, the new railway will have a capacity to transport 72,000 pilgrims in an hour. Nine stations have been constructed in Arafat, Mina and Muzdalifa, each having three stations. This is the second largest project implemented by the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs after the SR4.5 billion high-tech Jamrat Bridge project in Mina.
Habib Zain Al-Abidine, deputy minister of municipal and rural affairs, said the railway will have 10 trains in the first phase, each with a length of 300 meters. “Each train will carry 3,000 passengers.”
He said Saudi authorities have not yet fixed the fare. “The matter is in the hands of Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior Prince Naif, chairman of the Supreme Haj Committee. Once the prince gives his directives, we’ll announce the fare,” he said.
The time for transporting pilgrims from Arafat to Muzdalifa will be reduced to five minutes on the 9th of Dul Hijjah when the faithful will move together from the plain of Arafat to Muzdalifa. And another five minutes will take them from Muzdalifa to Mina on the 10th.
Zain Al-Abidine said the railway would operate throughout the year.
The second phase of the project will link Mashair Railway with the Grand Mosque in Makkah with a station on Umm Al-Qura Road. It will also be linked with the Haramain Railway that connects Makkah with Madinah and Jeddah.
The trains will have a test run covering 6,000 km each before starting regular operations. The first test run took place last Thursday. The railway will have 20 trains in the next stage, each with 12 carriages and each carriage holding 250 passengers. About 20 percent of passengers will be seated while 80 percent will be standing. Trains will have a speed of 80 to 120 km/hour.


A 'Train' Of Thoughts 
In Singapore, I saw the most intelligent and safest train in the world. It runs underground without a driver. It has 29 stations above ground.
The length of its track is 33.3 km and its speed 90 km per hour. This train is electronically controlled from an operations room, whose director says controlling the train is like playing a Playstation.
There are of course other examples. Let us go to Iran. A news item says China and Iran have signed a $2 billion deal (approximately SR7.5 billion) to construct a railway line from Iran to the city of Khisrawi in Iraq, passing through a number of other cities. The story was covered on Sept. 11 by a number of newspapers, including the Egyptian publication Akhbar Al-Youm.
Now let us go to an Arab country, Libya, which has a project for two railway lines with the total length of more than 1,152 km and costing SR9.75 billion.
This means that the cost of a single kilometer of rail is SR8.5 million. These two lines are being constructed by a Chinese company.
In Saudi Arabia there is Al-Mashaer (Holy Sites) Metro, which runs on track that is only 18-km long. It is also being built by a Chinese company. Its cost is SR6.6 billion, which means that the cost of a single kilometer is SR369 million.
Let us, without any prejudice, try to understand the high cost of this metro. It is a traditional historic tram. From the pictures that were leaked, it seems that in terms of decor its cars could compete with Van Gogh’s Opium Flower painting (which was recently stolen from an Egyptian museum). The cars are painted with 24-carat gold. The floors are encrusted with jewels and precious stones. Its seats are made of silver. It incorporates state-of-the-art technology and has an intercom system, which talks to each pilgrim in his or her own language guiding on the correct methods of performing Haj.
If need be, these cars will complete the rituals for the pilgrims. All the above is no more than hypotheses and theories. The truth lies in the hearts of the officials. I asked a friend why the Singaporean train is more intelligent and cheaper? He answered: “Because you are stupid!”

Source: Arab News

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