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Train of the believers

TÜV SÜD inspects the “Mecca Metro” – a light rail system serving millions of pilgrims

From Mina to Mecca and back: The “Mecca Metro” connects the holy sites of Islam in Saudi Arabia.
Photo: Getty Images

Locals also use the metro. Starting in 2017, the train will run from Mecca to the airport.
Photo: Getty Images

The metro transports believers from all over the world to Islam’s pilgrimage sites at hourly intervals.
Photo: ddp images

Every year, several million Muslims journey to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj, the holy pilgrimage. For the cities of Mecca and Medina, this is a logistical challenge – one that has become significantly easier in recent years thanks to support from TÜV SÜD.

The road to Mecca is long and arduous. It was and still is a journey from the desert, through the desert, and into the desert. The holiest city of Islam lies about 100 kilometers from the Red Sea in western Saudi Arabia, surrounded by two mountain chains that form a valley into which the pilgrims flow. Every year, more than 2.7 million believers officially crowd into the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad. They travel from all over the world to the place that every devout Muslim must visit at least once in their lifetime. When Mecca overflows, then it is Hajj in the Arab world, the great pilgrimage season.

A strenuous time for believers. A several-day ritual begins in Miqat, leading to the Kaaba in the center of Mecca and onward to Mina, across the Plains of Arafat and back. A pilgrimage that includes the symbolic stoning of the Devil and circling the Kaaba. The trip to Mecca is always a complicated ritual: Certain prayers must be said at certain locations, and the pace of the pilgrims’ gait adapted at specific places. If anyone makes a mistake, their Hajj is deemed invalid and must be repeated.

The pilgrim season is an annual challenge for the logistics experts in the Saudi Kingdom. The fundamental problem of the pilgrimage is that millions of the faithful from all over the globe converge in a relatively short period of time and visit the different pilgrimage sites on the same days. The new “Mecca Metro” has been offering assistance since 2010. Officially named the Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro, the new public transportation replaces more than 50,000 buses per year according to the customer, the Saudi Railways Organization, and reduces the once endless traffic jams between the individual pilgrimage stations.

 

 

Over the next 25 years the number of pilgrims will exceed the three million mark.

Nine TÜV SÜD experts inspected the route on location for any safety-relevant aspects. “We delivered an assessment of the entire system, which the Saudi Arabian government used to issue the operating permit,” says the former project manager, Jens Flachsbarth.

Stretching over 18.1 kilometers, the metro connects the city of Mecca with the pilgrimage sites of Mina, the Plains of Arafat and Muzdalifah, transporting a total of 72,000 passengers per hour when fully occupied. The train, which was built by a Chinese company with partners in France, Germany, and other countries, is customized to meet the pilgrims’ needs. This means transporting as many people as possible in the shortest timepossible. Strictly speaking, the metro isn’t really a “subway” since the majority of the route is above ground, on its own specially built viaduct.