Saudi Arabia received 5 per cent less hajj pilgrims in 2016 compared to 2015, a trend that could undermine the urgency of awarding the contracts for the Mecca Metro project.

A total of 1.86 million visitors travelled to Mecca to perform the annual hajj pilgrimage this week, some 5 per cent lower compared to the 2015 figures, according to Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Statistics.

The number of hajj pilgrims peaked in 2012, when it reached 3.16 million.

Year Number of hajj pilgrims to Mecca
2007 2,454,325
2008 2,408,849
2009 2,313,278
2010 2,789,399
2011 2,927,717
2012 3,161,573
2013 1,980,249
2014 2,085,238
2015 1,952,817
2016 1,862,909
Source: General Authority for Statistics

The following year, the tender for the project management consultancy for the Mecca Metro was released. The metro is part of the SR60bn ($16bn) Mecca Public Transport Plan (MPTP), which also includes a bus network.

Four contracts for the Mecca Metro Lines B and C, which comprises the first phase of the scheme, are currently awaiting final approval from the Royal Court before they are awarded. These include two civil contracts, and one contract each for the systems and rolling stock.

A consortium comprising Spain’s Isolux Corsan, the local Haif Contracting and Turkey’s Kolin has been announced as the preferred bidder for the $2.6bn civil works 1 package for phase 1. The award was originally expected during the last quarter of 2015 but the award has since been delayed

Apart from receiving annual hajj pilgrims, Mecca also hosts umrah pilgrims year-round. The total number of visitors descending to Mecca for both religious pilgrimage is expected to rise to more than 25 million by 2030, some 10 million more than the number of expected arrivals in 2016.

It is the first city in Saudi Arabia with a metro system in place. The The pilgrim metro line, also known as the Al Mashaaer al Mugadassah metro, links the holy sites of Mecca, Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah. It spans 18km and has a capacity to transport 72,000 passengers an hour.

The metro was built by Chinese contractors, under a $1.77bn contract between the Municipal & Rural Affairs Ministry and China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC). The contract covered the construction of the scheme and a three-year operation and maintenance concession.

After a limited capacity test run during the 2010 hajj, the metro was operated by CRCC at full capacity during the hajj in 2011, 2012 and 2013. CRCC incurred net losses estimated at $607m prior to transferring the project to the client. In May 2015, Malaysia’s Prasarana won a three-year operation and maintenance contract for the service.