Saudi Arabia’s Al-Mashaer railway, or pilgrim metro, transported 1.8 million passengers during the recently concluded hajj season, according to the General Authority for Statistics.

The passengers were carried by 15 trains that operated for a total of 105 hours within the six-day hajj period.

The length of each train is 300 meters, with 60 doors, 168 screens and 12 carriages. Each train can accommodate up to 3,500 pilgrims.

The pilgrim metro line 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.

Mecca is the first city in Saudi Arabia with a metro system in place.

The $16bn transport plan for the city, known as the Mecca Public Transport Programme (MPTP), includes Mecca Metro, a multi-phased light rail 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.

These contracts, worth an estimated $8bn, were originally scheduled for award in late 2015.

Lines B and C comprise 23 kilometres of underground track and 22km of at-grade and elevated track, as well as 22 stations. The Mecca Metro’s two remaining lines, A and D, are still under study.

Mecca received 5 per cent less hajj pilgrims in 2016 compared to the previous year. Such decline in the number of visitors to the city could potentially further hold back the award of the Mecca Metro contracts.