Plans for a two-line urban rail network are being firmed up to cope with explosive demand for transport in this booming city. Murray Hughes reports

DUBAI is an extraordinary city. Renowned as a holiday playground and rapidly-expanding business centre, it boasts an extravagant seven-star hotel on its own island site, while an offshore resort of artificial islands built in the shape of a palm tree is emerging from the blue waters south of the city. A second Palm Island resort is planned, and in 2006 the city will open Hydropolis, the world's first underwater hotel. But something fundamental is missing - Dubai has no railway.

According to Eng Nasser Ahmed Saeed, Director of the Roads Department of Dubai Municipality, that is about to change. Proposals for a two-line network are being firmed up, and Saaed told delegates at Mena Rail last December that there is no time to lose. Noting that the number of private cars registered in Dubai had trebled from 118000 in 1991 to 354000 a decade later, he said the 2003 figure was 480000 for a population of 1·1 million. 'We need to control this', affirmed Saeed, who is also General Co-ordinator for the Dubai Rail Project.

Public transport exists in the form of an expanding bus network, where traffic rose from less than 1 million trips in 1991 to over 5million in 2002. Saaed pointed out that Dubai Municipality has built 9100 lane-km of road at a cost of 8·4bn dirhams in the last three decades, but 'we cannot always widen roads' as it affects people and 'disturbs the character of the community'.

An initial transport study was carried out in 1990, and this was followed in 1997 by a review that called for development of a mass transit network. Consultants were appointed, concluding that Dubai was badly in need of high-capacity urban transit. Basic design is in hand, and Saaed said 'we are just waiting for the consultant to finish 30% design'. This will permit the project to move to the tender stage in May or June this year.

Saaed confirmed that the routes of the two lines are now decided, although details of the tenders were still under discussion. Finance is not viewed as a problem. According to Saeed, a 60% fares increase recently implemented on bus services generated no complaints, implying that it will be possible to cover much of the cost of the rail network from the farebox.

Capital cost of the initial network is put at 14·3bn dirhams, of which 5·5bn dirhams will pay for civil engineering work. A fleet of 99 five-car trains to be maintained at a depot in the industrial area of Al Quoz will cost 3bn dirhams, and the rest is earmarked for options and contingencies.

Dr Abdelqader Elshabani, Technical Co-ordinator for the Dubai Rail Project, outlined details of the 50 km Red Line linking Rashidiya in the northeast with Jebel Ali Port in the southwest. The line will start at Dafza on the north side of Dubai Creek and then run for 4·7 km below the Deira central area and under the Creek to emerge on to Sheikh Zaeed Road, a 12-lane motorway where rush hour lasts for more than 12h a day. As much as 45·3 km of the Red Line will be elevated, with 29 elevated and six underground stations in total.

Major development is taking place along Sheikh Zaeed Road, where the spectacular Emirates Towers and several other commercial sites are already established. The centre will migrate south as development flourishes in locations such as Internet City, where clusters of skyscrapers are rising from the sand.

The 19·2 km Green Line will serve the old city and areas on either side of Dubai Creek, including the airport, where two stations will serve separate terminals. Only 5·8 km with five stations will be above ground, while 13·4 km with 17 stations will run in tunnel. Underground sections will be built using a TBM, while the viaducts will make use of pre-cast structures.

Plans envisage that construction will proceed in two phases. The first costing 8·5bn dirhams will require a fleet of 57 trains; these are expected to enter service by 2010 on a section of the Red Line between the University and Green Line interchange at Union Square. Phase II is due for completion in 2013.

When the whole network is complete, planners expect nearly 1·2 million boardings a day by 2017, with 17000 passengers/h in each direction at peak times. Although some documents refer to light rail, it is clear that the scheme is on the scale of a light metro, with a design capacity of 27000 passengers/h in each direction on the Red Line and 18000 passengers/h on the Green Line. Bus feeders will be developed, and the authorities hope that public transport will in due course be able to increase its share of trips in the city to over 18%.


Dubai Rail Project planners have already decided that the trains will be driverless, with platform screen doors at all stations. Judging by other buildings in Dubai, the architecture will be spectacular, and commercial property development is envisaged at many stations.

Considerable efforts will be made to make the rail service attractive. Trains will include first class accommodation, and at the price of 5% to 8% lower capacity, a segregated section for women and children only will be provided. The challenge, according to Elshabani, will be to attract high-earning nationals, including women. Saeed says the cars will be designed to seat 80 people comfortably, with each being 25m long and 2·6m wide. Ease of access will be ensured by use of smart cards.

  • CAPTION: South of the old city, the Red Line will parallel the coast along the 12-lane wide Sheikh Zaeed Road, serving the spectacular Emirates Towers development (top)
  • CAPTION: The Red Line will also serve the new development at Internet City, where skyscrapers are rapidly rising from the sands (right and below)