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Chinese light rail in Saudi Arabia carries over 2m pilgrims during Hajj

By LUO WANGSHU | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-25 09:44
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A rail service built and operated by China played a critical role in facilitating the annual Hajj pilgrimage this year amid scorching temperatures in Saudi Arabia.

The Mecca Metro, managed by China Railway Construction Corporation, transported over 2 million pilgrims during the weeklong event, offering a cool and efficient mode of travel between holy sites.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of State-owned CRCC's successful Hajj operations, with the number of passengers since its inception exceeding 25 million.

The Mecca Metro service, operational for seven days and nights from June 13 to Wednesday, covered a total of over 40,000 kilometers, with 2,206 train services running smoothly.

The pilgrimage unfolded during a severe heat wave, with temperatures reaching 51.8 C.

Saudi Health Minister Fahad Al-Jalajel was quoted by the country's state television network on Sunday as saying that 1,301 people died during the Hajj this year. He said the deaths were caused by pilgrims "walking long distances under direct sunlight without adequate shelter or comfort", and that 83 percent of the fatalities were among people who were not authorized to make the pilgrimage.

The Mecca Metro provided a welcome respite from the scorching heat, with a desert air conditioning system on station platforms utilizing water vapor technology to maintain comfortable temperatures and humidity levels throughout the day.

The 18.25-kilometer rail line, featuring nine stations, connects three key pilgrimage sites. It is Saudi Arabia's first light rail system and the first such project undertaken by a Chinese entity in the Middle East.

Beyond facilitating the movement of pilgrims, the project has fostered significant knowledge transfer. Over the past decade, CRCC has trained nearly 60,000 Saudi Arabian employees, including 600 mid- to high-level personnel, in rail transit operations.

Rayan Mhammed Atiyah, a 35-year-old station manager, exemplifies that success story. After joining as a station attendant in 2010, Atiyah's dedication and the opportunity to learn from Chinese colleagues equipped him with the expertise to excel in his role.

"It has fulfilled my career aspirations," Atiyah said, commending the project for fostering professional growth and cultural exchange.

Zhang Long, the project manager, highlighted the broader significance of the Mecca Metro in the context of the Belt and Road Initiative.

"Over a decade ago, this area was merely desert," he said. "Today, we have established a convenient pilgrimage route for Muslims worldwide."

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