MAKKAH — Independent reports into a stampede that occurred at the Mashair train station in Arafat during Haj have blamed Tawafa establishments for sending pilgrims without tickets to the station.
None of the four reports, submitted by three professional railway corporations and a German expert on traffic, cited a delay or technical malfunction as the cause.
Squatting pilgrims were cited as another important cause for the stampede.
The reports said a large number of pilgrims who were sleeping on the roads between Arafat Station 1 and Arafat Station 3 flocked to the station and it was difficult for the security officers to stop them.
When this huge number of ticket-less pilgrims flocked into the station, pilgrims who had tickets could not get through the gates of Arafat Station 3. They were asked to use the gates on the other side of the station instead and this took a long time, according to the reports.
Another cause for the stampede, according to the reports, was the pilgrims’ failure to comply with their departure schedule.
Pilgrims failed to enter the station through gates specified in their tickets and all of them chose instead to enter through one gate. This was captured by the cameras inside the train station.
The train was delayed for an hour and a half because it had to transport so many pilgrims, some of whom without tickets.
The reports said the train had to transport between 150,000 to 200,000 pilgrims without tickets.
The reports were prepared by German railway corporation Deutsche Bahn International; Vision SQL, an Australian company which trains Saudi railway staff; Prof. Knut Haase, dean of the Institute of Logistics and Transport, the University of Hamburg; and TüV Sued, a German company that assesses the quality of services.
Five recommendations were made to prevent such accidents from happening again. First, Tawafa establishments that failed to comply with the departure schedule should be replaced with ones that are more observant of the rules.
Second, all the camps located along the railway track should only be used by pilgrims who have tickets.
Third, necessary precautionary measures should be put in place to prevent pilgrims from sleeping in the streets.
Fourth, train stations should have gates that can be remotely controlled when crowds of pilgrims try to enter the station.
Fifth, pilgrims with tickets should be organized into groups so that they do not flock into the train station in a disorderly manner.
Meanwhile, a senior official at the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs said the Mashair railway transported more than 700,000 pilgrims to without hitch.
Habeeb Zainul Abideen, supervisor of development projects at the ministry, told Okaz/Saudi Gazette 160,000 of those passengers did not have tickets.
The service, although new, had successfully transported this large number of pilgrims in a record time, Zainul Abideen said.
He added: “We have been following closely what has been written in the media about the stampede in Arafat.
“We’d like to ask the media not to blow out of proportion what happened at the train station for the sake of generating headlines. The train worked just fine.”
Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, Chairman of the Central Haj Committee and Makkah Emir, gave orders to form a fact-finding committee to investigate the causes of the stampede, he added.
The Interior Ministry, Saudi Red Crescent Authority and the Ministry of Haj among others praised the train’s performance during a press conference aired recently by all Saudi TV channels, he said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Al-Turki added: “We have set the record straight about what happened at Arafat without any exaggeration.”