Dubai is home of the world’s first 7 star hotel in the Burj Al Arab, the world’s tallest building in the Burj Khalifa Tower, and the world’s longest fully-automated passenger metro system.

Dubai doesn’t know the meaning of anything less than world class so when the rail engineer heard they had opened their second metro line, the Green Line, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look and see just exactly how an Emirate with a population of only 2.2 million moves people around a city against competition from 12 lane motorways and cars that can be filled up for a third of the price of that in the UK.

The Roads & Transport Authority (RTA) has appointed Serco Middle East to manage and operate the system under a 7 year licence to 2014 with an option to extend for another 5 years to 2019.

The RTA is responsible for all public transport in Dubai including the Metro, buses, taxis and water taxis, which puts them in an ideal place to integrate transport journeys throughout the city, taking traffic off the road and easing congestion.

With oil being one of the United Arab Emirates greatest assets, the car-dependent population has needed some coaxing to use the Metro. However the RTA seems to be winning this battle and converting more and more users on a monthly basis with over 100 million journeys being made since the line opened in 2009.

Red Line

The Dubai Metro was opened by his Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE, at 9 seconds and 9 minutes past 9pm on the 9 September 2009 (09:09:09 09/09/09). The Red Line, running for 52.1 km from Jebel Ali in the west to Rashidiya near the airport in the east, was initially opened with just 10 stations. A further 18 followed in 2010 and the last one, Jebel Ali station itself, in March 2011. 24 of the 29 stations are elevated alongside the 12 lane motorway of the Sheik Zayed Road, four are underground in the business district and one is at street level. In its first full year of operation, the service transported 30 million passengers

Constructed by Dubai Rapid Link (DURL), which is a consortium made up of Japanese companies including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Corporation, Obayashi Corporation, Kajima Corporation and the Turkish company Yapi Merkezi, the project started in 2005 and was largely completed in under 4 years.

The aim of the RTA was always to get people out of their cars and onto the public transport system, so two giant park-and-ride car parks were built at Rashidiya and Jumeirah Islands, each having 3,000 spaces.

Serco Middle East

Two years prior to the Metro opening, Serco Middle East was made responsible for recruiting and training the 2,200 workers it would take to run, operate and maintain the Red Line. An additional 800 workers have now been added for the new Green Line taking the workforce to over 3000 employees. Around 50,000 training hours have been delivered to staff at all levels of the business.

Chris Rayner is the new Managing Director of the Dubai Metro. A former Western Route Director for Network Rail and Managing Director of CTRL, Chris explained he had wanted to work abroad since a holiday in Thailand in 2010. The Dubai Metro has offered him the chance to be directly responsible for 3,000 people from 28 different countries speaking many languages. Chris commented, “We have key performance indicators based around punctuality and performance to hit, and the RTA set their standards high with nothing less than 99% being acceptable. I’ve only been in the post a few months but I am very proud of the team and every worker, how they have pulled together to give us a metro system that is being hailed as world class. The quality of our workers’ accommodation is like a 3-star hotel and they are paid a wage which means they can send up to 90% of their wages home. The challenges for us are in keeping the Metro efficient, increasing the patronage of the metro and being able to hand it back to the RTA when the contract ends.”

Green Line

Following on from the success of the Red Line, the new Green Line was inaugurated on 9 September 2011 and currently runs over 17.6 km from the inland Etisalat depot, up to the coast, and back inland again to Healthcare City. A further 4.9 km on to Al Qusais and Creek will be added later. Built in the same style as the Red Line, it has two interchanges with the latter at Union Square and Khalid Bin Al Waleed. Union Station is now reputed to be one of the largest metro stations in the world, covering 25,000 square meters on two levels. 12 of the 16 stations on the Green Line (18 when it is extended to Creek) are elevated, while six are underground as is 7.9 km of the route.

With the opening of the Green Line, Dubai Metro now covers 70 kilometres and takes in 47 stations, nine of which are underground.

Air conditioned depots

The Red Line has two maintenance depots; Al Rashidiya Depot, the main depot has capacity to park 45 trains and Jebel Ali Depot, the auxiliary depot has capacity to park 24 trains.

Al Rashidiya Depot, which covers 170,000 square feet, has the facility to carry out both light and heavy maintenance. Green Line has one depot at Al Qusais which is 30% larger and has more space available to carry out both light and heavy maintenance.

Robin Chen, the Rolling Stock and Depots Manager, explained, “The rolling stock, supplied by Kinki-Sharyo of Japan, consists of an initial 44 five-car sets followed by a further eighteen. Each train is made up of one carriage set aside for Gold Class passengers, each with 18 superior leather seats, and with separate partition for women and children only, and the remaining four carriages are Silver Class for the general public. Each carriage has three doors per carriage allowing, even in peak time, plenty of room for people to access and leave the train and all with allocated space for wheelchair users. Since then, The RTA has ordered and received another 17 trains for the Green Line.

Each 85.5 meter long train has 142 seats and can comfortably accommodate 643 passengers. They can carry up to 897 passengers at peak capacity and are structurally designed for a maximum of 1,150. Trains are fitted with passenger information displays in Arabic and English, the signage shows route maps and CCTV monitors every carriage.

With Transport Police present throughout the stations and trains, passengers feel very secure. Visitors will notice how remarkably clean the trains are and the RTA have gone for limited advertising opportunities inside the trains and stations rather than bombarding their customers with advertising messages in any available space. With trains operating every 3 minutes and 45 seconds during peak time and every 5 minutes off peak, you never have to wait long to get on board.”

The air-conditioned maintenance depots are fitted out with the best equipment available and employ 600 people. Each day trains start themselves at a pre-determined time, run through pre-operation checks and then make their way first to the yard and then out onto the network. At the end of the day they run back to the depot, go through a maintenance check and then power themselves down to conserve energy. The current maintenance routine happens every 3 days, 2 weeks and 3 months on every set, regardless of how many kilometers it has carried out operationally.


John Barlass is the Engineering and Maintenance Director. John explained that currently the company responsible for building the Metro was carrying out Level 1 and 2 maintenance tasks as, under the build contract, it has to make sure that it is handing over a snag-free metro system. Level 3 and 4 maintenance is undertaken by Dubai Metro.

John, a former London Midland Engineering Director and Operations Director for Alstom Transport, commented that because the system is so new it hasn’t really had any real tests yet.

The biggest challenges are making sure the system copes with temperatures as high as 113-117 °F from May through to August, and keeping the points and track clear of sand and dust. When a sand storm blows up it just rolls across 70km of open desert from Abu Dhabi and covers everything.

Operational control centre

The state-of-the-art Operations Control Centre oversees train movement using a Thales control system. The entire Dubai Metro system is controlled and monitored by 27 people working 12 hour shifts and managed by former Manchester Metrolink employee Steve Staley. Large wall displays show the exact location of every train set on the network across the Red and Green lines while the CCTV cameras are monitored by Dubai’s transport police. CCTV in stations, trains, depots, track-side and sub-stations and Emergency Call Points (ECP) on station platforms & trains, intrusion alarm systems and a smart card operated access control system are all controlled and monitored via the Operational Control Centre.


Mark Smith, Dubai Metro’s Stations Manager, explained that each station has been designed with a theme around Fire, Earth, Water and Wind. Khalid Bin Al Waleed station is one of two where the Red Line meets up with the Green Line over a three level station. Mark is very proud of all his staff that run the stations, from the ticket clerk to the barrier assistants – every one of them has either been trained in customer service or they have a natural disposition to serve. And with 200 retail outlets about to become available on the network, Mark and his team will become even busier very soon.

The 47 stations have been largely built to a standard design, keeping build costs down. Also, Dubai Metro launched the world’s first initiative of station naming rights in 2008. The RTA now has 21 stations already named and it raised a significant 1.8 billion Dirhams (£310 million) in doing so.

With 100 million passengers in 2 years, 3,000 employees, 87 train sets, 47 stations of which 21 are named for the next 10 years, 3 maintenance depots, 2 lines and a high-tech operational control centre, Dubai has built not only the longest fully automated metro system but also one of the most technically advanced systems in the world.

The story is not yet over. The two-station extension of the Green Line to Creek is coming soon. The Al Sufouh Tram Project is already being constructed by Alstom and Belhasa Six Construct LLC and there is an impressive mock-up of a station and tram at the Jumeirah Beach Walk. There is also talk of Purple and Blue metro lines to connect the existing Dubai International Airport with the recently-opened Al Maktoum International Airport. the rail engineer will no doubt have to go back to Dubai again in the future…