The world’s longest, fully automated driverless railway system is about to get a lot longer. Although extensions and new lines have been part of the plan for some time, winning the 2020 World Expo bid has fast-tracked some of the expansion, especially in the Jebel Ali area. Work will begin in 2014 on an extension from the existing Red Line along Sheikh Zayed Road to the Expo 2020 site at Al Maktoum International Airport.
Expanding The System
The current metro network, the first section of which was opened in September 2009, covers 75 km and has 47 stations. The entire system is planned by the scheduled completion time of 2030 to have a 421-km-long network of rail and trams with just under 200 stations.
Mattar Al Tayer, the chairman of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and a member of the Higher Committee for Hosting the 2020 World Expo, was quoted in the local press as saying it would take around four years to build the extension to the World Expo 2020 site and that was the only major transport investment required for the Expo. “All we need is a small change,” he said. “We don’t need major change because the infrastructure is ready or almost ready.”
While the link with the Expo 2020 site is, as Al Tayer said, the only part seen as a necessity to complete before Expo 2020, between now and the opening of the exhibition there will be a lot more happening with the metro service that was planned even if Expo 2020 had never existed. The Red Line will be stretched from Rashidiya to Mirdif and the Green Line from Al Jaddaf to Academic City. Both extensions are likely to be complete and fully operational around 2020, although the consideration is driven more by the needs of the local population as well as expansion of industrial clusters than either the tourism sector or the 2020 Expo. Dubai’s population is estimated to reach and even surpass the 3m mark by 2020.
Although the general routes of the new tracks have been agreed, Abdullah Yousuf Al Ali, acting CEO of the RTA’s Rail Agency, said that work will now begin on determining the precise routes and the exact location and number of stations. “The RTA is conducting more studies on the proposed extensions and the actual date to start work on the projects next year will be decided once the studies are complete. Irrespective of the start date, the projects will be in operation by 2020,” he added. The Red Line extension will run for around 3.5 km and serve communities such as Shurooq and Ghuroob in Mirdif and Mirdif City Centre.
However, in terms of pure numbers of passengers, it is the 20.6-km Green Line extension that will see the bigger take-up. It will bring into the mainstream public transport network the sizeable residential and industrial sections of the Ras Al Khor Industrial Area, and the currently slightly isolated yet populated areas of International City, Silicon Oasis and Academic City.
It will prove a benefit to all these areas but perhaps none more so than to the growing student population of Academic City, which is not well served by transport, even taxis. Estimates for the size of the population by the time the entire local rail transport system is complete in 2030 are around 6m. The master plan involves building a minimum of four extra metro lines.
The metro was opened in two stages that were two years apart. The first phase, the Red Line, started operations in September 2009, to be followed by the Green Line exactly two years later. Passenger traffic is now aided by a system of feeder buses, ferrying passengers to the stations. It was only when the Green Line opened in 2011 that the Dubai Metro was entitled to be styled as the world’s longest, fully automated driverless railway system, spanning residential and industrial areas.
Preliminary studies for a metro system had begun in 1997 with a feasibility study that took three years to complete. This was followed in the four years between 2000 and 2004 by intensive design and engineering studies. The final stage of making the whole idea reality came in July 2005, when a design and build contract was awarded to a consortium called Dubai Rapid Link. Sixteen years after the initial idea and a little over four years after the first train, the numbers speak for themselves. The RTA’s Al Ali told the local press, “Dubai Metro has seen around 20% increase in ridership over the years, with the current average daily ridership being 400,000. We have a total of 58 trains operating together on both the lines, which reflects a phenomenal growth in such a short period.”
The sophistication of the system has brought a few express services that stop only at certain stations, separate compartments for woman and children as well as a more expensive gold ticket section likely to be less crowded at rush hours.
In September 2013 the RTA said it intended to open a new station in Jebel Ali on the Red Line to be called Energy. Mohammed Yousuf Al Mudharreb, director of rail operations at RTA’s Rail Agency, told local press that the agency anticipated that it would be used initially by around 25,000 passengers daily. The RTA has already taken measures to ensure the line can handle the expected increase in passengers by extending peak hours and shortening headway time. Al Mudharreb added that the station will be served by a feeder bus that will cover The Gardens, Jebel Ali Village and Jebel Ali Church. Given Dubai’s temperature and humidity, especially at the height of summer, the feeder buses are a necessity to encourage mass use of the metro system and to maintain a pleasant environment inside the cars. Apart from the money generated by ticket sales, other income will come from retail store rentals and ATM locations. There is also a provision for selling the rights to name a station.
Figures for metro usage from the RTA show 43.5m passengers used the Red Line in the first six months of 2013, which averages out at a little over 7m a month. By contrast, the Green Line’s figures were lower but still running at 23.5m over the same period, or slightly under 4m a month. Monthly traffic through individual stations was measured at 3m regular customers each for Deira City Centre, Burj Khalifa and Mall of the Emirates; 2.7m for Union, BurJuman, Al Rigga and Al Karama; and 2m for Al Fuhaidi, Bani Yas and Al Ghubaiba.
The first Dubai tram coaches arrived from Alstom in France in December 2013 as part of an eventual delivery of 25 trams for testing ahead of inauguration of the service in November 2014. The system is another world first. The trams are powered by a ground-based electricity supply, which eliminates the need for overhead cables. The tracks for the tramway will eventually run for more than 15 km alongside Al Sufouh Road, with the first phase comprising 10.6 km from Dubai Marina to the Tram Depot near Dubai Police Academy, costing Dh4bn ($1.08bn). Some parts of the track that pass through Dubai Marina are elevated. In total the network has 18 stations, 11 of which are covered in phase one, and the RTA expects it to carry around 27,000 people a day when operations start, rising to 66,000 by 2020.
The network is designed to link with the metro system by installing footbridges at both the Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Lakes Towers metro stations. In addition, there will be a connection between the tram and the Palm Jumeirah monorail. The 44-metre trains carry around 300 riders and, like the metro, have a separate section for first class as well as a designated area for women and children. The RTA has signed a six-year, Dh105m ($28.5m) contract to operate the system with UK government services firm Serco, which allows for an extra 15 months at the beginning for testing and training. Serco has operated the Red and Green Lines since the inception of the system in September 2009. Maintenance of the trams has been agreed on with project contractor the Alstom-Besix consortium in a deal that spans 13 years and can be extended for five years.