One of the new Mashair Railway light-rail trains runs in Mecca, Saudia Arabia, the holiest city of Islam, in early November. The 11-mile (18-kilometer) railway will transport some of the millions of pilgrims who travel to Islamic holy sites during the annual four-day hajj.
The train is open only to Saudi Arabians and other Persian Gulf-state nationals until the system becomes fully operational next year, according to the Associated Press. (See pictures: "Inside Mecca.")
Saudi officials hope the Chinese-built train—also called the Mecca Metro—will ease crowding among the roughly 2.5 million worshipers who make the Mecca pilgrimage in any given year, the AP reported.
Part of a ten-year modernization plan for the ancient city, the railway will be joined by modern communication technology, green initiatives, and other urban-planning improvements, Mecca Mayor Ossama al-Bar told the AP.
—Korena Di Roma
Photograph by Amer Hilabi, AFP/Getty Images
Pilgrims From the Air
Muslim pilgrims pray outside the Namira mosque in Arafat, near Mecca, Saudia Arabia, on November 15.
During its first phase, the Mecca Metro will link Mecca to Mina, Mount Arafat, and Muzdalifa—holy sites visited by pilgrims retracing the steps of the Prophet Muhammad and Abraham, according to the Associated Press.
The pilgrimage is the largest annual gathering of people in the world, and overcrowding makes safety and health hazards a concern for officials.
Mayor al-Bar told the AP that the city hopes to use "the best urban planning, the smartest technology, to ensure the trip of the pilgrim is safe, easy, and enjoyable."
Photograph by Hassan Ammar, AP
Along for the Ride
Men ride the newly opened Mecca Metro on November 2.
The two-billion-U.S.-dollar rail system is currently operating at 35 percent capacity, running 12 lime green trains that can carry about 3,000 people at any given moment, train operator Ahmed Hosny told the Associated Press. When the light-rail reaches full capacity next year, it will serve as many as 500,000 pilgrims.
The pilgrimage to Mecca, or hajj—which in 2010 runs from November 14 to 18—is a pillar of the Islamic faith and must be undertaken at least once during the lifetime of every Muslim able to make the journey.