How do you safely and quickly transport several hundred thousand people over a harsh, sun-scorched terrain in just a few days?
That was the dilemma facing the transit authorities in charge of organising the hajj, or annual weeklong Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. At the time, the only way to make the trek among the holy sites was by jam-packed bus or by foot.
It was a very specific need for a very special city. Thales met it with the opening in November 2010 of the Makkah (Mecca) Metro, a new 18.5 km metro line that reduced travel time between the holy sites of Arafat and Muzdalifah to just ten minutes. Designed to carry 72,000 people per hour per direction at peak time the line uses Thales’s ATO technology to serve three main areas (Arafat, Mina and Muzdalifah), each of which have three stations. The complete journey time along the entire line is now less than 30 minutes – compared with up to five hours previously.
“The challenge was to build a system capable of carrying a maximum of people in a safe, smooth manner,” says Chokri Aroud, Installation and Test & Commissioning Director at Thales “Thales provided a complete solution, including signalling solutions, fully integrated communications, an Operation Control Centre (OCC) to supervise the line, an automated passenger information system, and an automatic fare collection system that uses magnetic wristbands.” Video analytics provides transit authorities with valuable information on security and crowd control.
“The challenge was to build a system capable of carrying a maximum of people in a safe, smooth manner,” Chokri Aroud, Installation and Test & Commissioning Director at Thales
The ATO solution was an important part of the ambitious project, improving metro performance by allowing “hands off” operation by drivers. The solution ensures that trains comply with required track speeds and operating conditions to ensure efficient, safe travel at all times. This is especially important in the unrelenting climatic conditions of the desert, including extreme temperatures and sandstorms, which can make rail travel hazardous.
The trains – 280 meters with 12 clean, air-conditioned cars – are only used during the hajj. During the rest of the year Thales provides maintenance by bringing in expertise from around the world.
Nearly a decade later, Thales’s expertise allows the hajj to take place smoothly – despite the fact that the population of Mecca region increases by more than 50% during this period, with more than 3 million pilgrims over five days.
Efficiency, safety, and reliability—it’s what reassures people around the world traveling to the hajj. It’s yet another example of Thales being there when the need arises. Tomorrow, other urban populations will need to be transported quickly and effectively, and Thales will have just the right solution.