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Sat 19 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Paving a way

The mean streets of Dubai are no place for the faint hearted, especially not if you’re in a hurry. Construction Week visited the Dubai Metro when it was just over a year from its first revenue service.

Paving a way
Part of the Dubai Metro tunnel under construction, slightly over a year before it was opened to the public.
Paving a way
An early image of the metro trains on arrival in Dubai.
Paving a way
A worker at a station being built for the Red Line.
Paving a way
Ongoing construction work at Jebel Ali station.
Paving a way
The track winds through already existing infrastructure.
Paving a way
The station interiors are very modern and contemporary.
Paving a way
Mechanics test out the new trains.
Paving a way
Ongoing construction at Rashidiya station.
Paving a way
Adnan Al Hammadi, director of rail projects construction, RTA.
Paving a way
All stations have air-conditioned foot bridges.

The mean streets of Dubai are no place for the faint hearted, especially not if you’re in a hurry. Construction Week visited the Dubai Metro when it was just over a year from its first revenue service.

Here is a straight forward message pinned to the wall at Union Station, the largest of Dubai’s metro stations - “Failure is not an option. 371 days remaining to revenue service.”

The same message is pinned to the wall at the Jebel Ali station. It’s a fair bet that wherever you go on the under-construction Dubai Metro project, you’re never far from the message.

The previous day, it was approaching 2pm in the centre of Dubai. At mid-afternoon, traffic was relatively light. But this would quickly change. The masses were about to finish work.

“It is good now,” said one of Dubai’s taxi drivers. “But wait five or 10 minutes, and you will have serious traffic jams everywhere.”

The taxi drivers of Dubai are a long-suffering breed. On the same day, a different driver told of a 2½ hour trip to Sharjah at rush hour. A journey that, in light traffic, should have taken around 30 minutes.

It was against this backdrop that the project every taxi driver has been waiting for arose. And the client? None other than the taxi driver’s employer - the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA).

When the Dubai Metro project was announced by the Government of Dubai in 2004, it was becoming abundantly clear to the highest office in the land that in order for the city to compete on the global stage in tourism and commerce, it was high time to bring some much needed relief to the choked roads. Construction of the metro began in January 2005. In typical Dubai style, things were not done in half measures. The RTA laid out its plans for the biggest driverless metro system in the world, and the longest metro track ever to be constructed from scratch.

The main contractor was Dubai Rapid Link (Durl), a consortium of mainly Japanese firms. By its very nature, construction of the project presented a daunting task from inception.

“The biggest challenge was the diversion of traffic without causing a hindrance to the traffic flow,” says Adnan Al Hammadi, director of rail projects construction.It became possible to walk the length of the Red Line from beginning to end, three days ahead of schedule. This was quite a feat in a city where materials shortages were never far from the headlines. Then again, if you need to ensure the job gets done, it no doubt helps to name drop the Government of Dubai: a sign that if something needs to get done, it will happen.

The track itself will be familiar to anyone who has driven along Sheikh Zayed Road.

It climbs above and dives below existing bridges, snaking along much of Dubai’s main thoroughfare, and threading through the city’s existing infrastructure.

The designers went over bridges where possible to avoid the hazard of debris falling from above. In a driverless system, track obstructions can cause problems.

At the Burjuman shopping centre, the track dives below ground, tunneling under Dubai Creek. The system will also include a “leaky feed”, allowing passengers to make and receive mobile phone calls from underground. Footbridges have been installed overnight with the help of a self propelled mobile transporter, an immense Japanese-built machine. The bridges are air-conditioned, and fitted with conveyors. This is Dubai. Why walk when you can travelate?

Al Hammadi believes the Metro will be enough to prise residents of Dubai from the seats of their cars when combined with broad improvements in the public transport network.

“The RTA’s main objective is to upgrade the transport infrastructure as a whole,” he said.

“The Metro will serve as a key connector linking to Dubai International Airport. Provision for park and ride facilities near the terminals and at strategic locations along the railway route, will also promote the use of the Dubai Metro.”

The five-carriage metro trains can carry a maximum of 643 passengers per train, and can run with 90 second intervals at peak travel times.

All stops have been pulled out to ensure the Metro is running on time. Despite the urgency, the project maintained a good safety record. A safety consultant engaged on the project said: “We have a record of 1.14 lost time accidents per million man hours.”

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