A new joint-venture is expected to be awarded a five-year operations and maintenance (O&M) contract for the running of the Al-Mashaaer al-Mugaddassah metro (Mecca metro).

The contract will come into operation from next year and is due to be awarded after this year’s Hajj pilgrimage.

The 18-kilometre metro line connects Saudi Arabia’s holy sites of Mecca, Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah. It has a capacity to transport 72,000 passengers an hour during the annual Muslim pilgrimage.

The new JV will take over from China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) which has been running the metro link since its launch in November 2010.

In 2009, CRCC signed a SR6.65bn ($1.77bn) engineering, procurement, construction, plus operation and maintenance contract with the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Municipality and Rural Affairs.

Since launching the service, CCRC has incurred billions of renminbi in loses. As of 31 October 2010, the estimated net loss of the project totalled RMB4.148bn ($607m)

In January 2011, CRCC agreed to transfer the loss-making project to its parent company and received RMB2.07bn in compensation.

There are further plans to improve Mecca’s public transport network through a SR60bn ($16.5bn) Mecca Public Transport Programme, which includes a mass transit rail project.

On 7 July, US firm Parsons Brinckerhoff was awarded the project management contract for the project. Early plans for the rail network include four main lines, 114km of track and 62 stations.