The Mashair Railway, also known as Mecca Metro, transported 500,000 pilgrims to Mount Arafat and its surrounding plains where they gathered for the peak Day of Arafat on Saturday.
The Chinese-built railway is operating for the first time this year at its full capacity of 72,000 people per hour to ease congestion and prevent stampedes in which hundreds have been killed in past years.
The dual-track light railway connects the three holy sites of Mina, Muzdalifah and Mount Arafat -- areas that see massive congestion during the five-day pilgrimage.
It replaces an estimated 30,000 cars previously used, said project director Fahd Abu-Tarbush.
"The train this year is restricted to the pilgrims coming from inside Saudi Arabia and Gulf states, as well as 200,000 pilgrims coming from south Asia," Tarbush told AFP.
Mashair Railway transported 500,000 pilgrims from Mina, passing by Muzdalifah, reaching to Arafat. In addition, it will service one million pilgrims on the Tashreeq days, which are on the 11th, 12th and 13th of the Muslim month of Dhul Hijjah.
Around 1.7 million Muslims descended on Mecca from around the world while between 700,000 and 800,000 pilgrims are coming from inside Saudi Arabia.
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be performed at least once in a lifetime by all those who are able to make the journey, and it is a dream that can take years to come true.
Saudi Arabia has also launched a new $10.6-billion project for a new extension to Mecca's Grand Mosque to increase its capacity to two million worshipers.
"Muslim Pilgrims Gather on Arafat, Saturday, Celebrate Eidul Adha Sunday" Aljazeera November 6, 2011
"Muslims throng Arafat for peak hajj day" AFP November 5, 2011
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today