MECCA (Saudi Arabia) - Saudi Arabia will invite tenders next year for a $16.53-billion metro network in Mecca, to ease congestion in the city, particularly during the annual hajj pilgrimage, the city's mayor said Wednesday.
Known as the Mecca Metro, the 62-billion-riyal ($16.5-billion) project calls for the construction of a four-line rail network and a call for tenders is due to be launched in January 2013, mayor Osama AlBar said.
"Studies have been finalised," he said, adding that the government endorsed the project in August.
Mecca received this week around 2.5 million pilgrims for the annual hajj pilgrimage and its resident population is due to rise to three million in 20 years.
During hajj it is almost impossible to move about the city where large crowds choke up the streets leading to the Great Mosque.
AlBar said that the metro network will cover 182 kilometres (113 miles) when the four lines are completed in 10 years.
The first stage is due to be completed in three years and will cover 122 kilometres, he said.
Authorities have invested billions of dollars to upgrade infrastructure and services to cope with the ever increasing numbers of pilgrims who visit Saudi Arabia for the hajj, and for omra, the lesser pilgrimage done year round.
In 2010, Saudi inaugurated its Mashair Railway, which cost $1.8 billion to transport pilgrims between the holy sites of Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat, just outside Mecca.
The much larger Haramain High Speed Rail is set to stretch 444 kilometres (275 miles) between Mecca and Medina, the second Muslim holy city, through the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
The Mecca Metro is expected to connect to both lines.