All Aboard the Dubai Metro


    Dubai Metro is the Middle East’s first automated rail transport system and the world’s longest. As such it poses both unique challenges and opportunities for the FM provider Serco. Paul Collett speaks to Paul Anderson, managing director, Serco Dubai Metro, and Ali Abdul Kader, director, maintenance department, Rail Agency, RTA 

    Dubai is witnessing history in the making, just as Britain did 200 years ago when Richard Trevithick invented the steam railway locomotive, which, by the mid 1800s, mobilised some 30 million Britains. Fast forward to the 21st century, a city-state approaching its 37th birthday, and the concept of a public rail transport network is coming to fruition; something the rest of the world – developed and undeveloped – takes for granted.

    Born of vision and necessity, the impact of the metro on Dubai’s populace and visitors in terms of travelling habits and mobility in general will help shape the emirate’s socioeconomic future.Story continues below

    Network service

    The railway system is being constructed in two phases – the Red Line and the Green Line. The Red Line, which will be ready to roll on September 9th this year, is 52.1 km long and will run from Rashidiya to Jebel Ali, covering a span of 29 stations. The 22.5 km Green Line will run from Al Qusais to Jaddaf taking in 18 stations en route.

    “This is the world’s longest driverless automated railway system, and a first for the Middle East,” says Ali Abdul Kader, director, maintenance department, Rail Agency, Rail and Transport Authority. “It is a huge project and one that has never been attempted in the Middle East before, so of course we have faced challenges. However, we met those challenges through fact finding trips to all the major cities including Paris, London and Singapore, to speak to the experts and see how they constructed, operated and maintained their metro systems.”

    Bids were then put out to tender. “Bids included French transport company RATP, SPS and SMRT from Singapore and Serco Middle East,” explains Al Kader. “All the bids were good but Serco’s regional experience in the aviation industry gave it the edge.”    

    The RTA awarded Serco the operations and maintenance concession to manage both pre- and post-launch phases of both lines, thought to be worth around AED15bn. The global service company can count Docklands Light Railway in London, the Great Southern Railway in Australia and the Copenhagen Metro in Denmark among its transport client list. Construction started in 2005.

    Primary FM objective

    The rail service, mixed use stations and connecting areas and bridges will have to reflect the network’s five star rating.

    Paul Anderson, managing director, Serco Dubai Metro, on Serco’s FM remit. “Our primary task is to provide and maintain a seamless multi-modal transport service. That means that passengers – whether using a bus, taxi or park and ride service – will experience a five star service in terms of affordability, accessibility, punctuality, aesthetics, cleanliness and security, from the first to last mile. If we don’t provide and maintain these standards in the first instance passengers will lose confidence and not use the service – it’s as simple as that.

    “And you have to factor-in the extreme climate here in the Middle East, so comfort is paramount. All buses, taxis, connecting areas and footbridges will be air conditioned, and we’re building new access and egress points interconnecting malls to stations to enhance the temperature controlled nature of the network,” he continues.

    Value adds   

    Stations will be fully equipped with amenities such as food outlets, ATMs, dry cleaning services and retail space. “We need footfall, so to attract passengers we are providing value added services at stations. Commuters will be able to incorporate their daily routines such as laundry, cash withdrawals and bill payments, shopping and the like, into their daily travel schedule.

    “This not only makes the network commercially viable, which of course it has to be, but we’re also making travel on the metro an attractive proposition for people who are used to doing the above from the comfort of their cars,” Anderson adds.

    Mobility patterns  
    Anderson highlights the affect the metro will have on mobility patterns in Dubai. “Undoubtedly the network will change the way people live their lives. Trips that were previously repressed due to time and cost restraints will now open up – we believe 40 percent of all trips will be ‘new trips’. In doing so the network will deliver liveability and productivity will also rise. People will no longer miss meetings due to traffic and they’ll arrive at work in a positive state of mind as journey times fall.”

    That said, Anderson is not anti car. “No, not all. The purpose of the metro is to give people options, to complement the services already available, to create a travel network. As public confidence grows in the abilities of the integrated system we’ll see a more European model emerge whereby people either drive to the station and commute or use taxi’s and buses to do the same. The environmental implications will also become more tangible as pollution levels drop and quality of air improves.”

    Unified ticketing system 

     Being hailed as five star service gives rise to the question of affordability. It is thought ticketing will be around the five dirham mark for the furthest journeys. “We are rolling out a unified multi-modal ticketing system that passengers can use on buses and at Metro stations. Pricing will operate on a distance based zonal model; and yes, the five dirham mark is about right although pricing has yet to be decided,” Anderson explains.   

    Unparalled modern infrastructure

    As you can see from the images, aesthetics is at the core of station design. “To my mind the infrastructure modernity is unparalled. The stations have been designed to give quality space with a lot of void areas and high quality fixtures, fittings and finishes. The challenge will be to keep them clean at certain times of the year when it’s very dusty and humid,” says Anderson.

    In a climate when at certain times of the year it’s impossible to go outside for any length of time, temperature control at stations and connecting areas is crucial. “Yes, the climate is a challenge,” says Al Kader, especially keeping the underground sections of the network cool. Heavy investment in the latest HVAC technology will ensure a consistent and comfortable environment.”


    On the Red Line alone 1,500 staff are needed – from technical engineers to cleaners. A 30 percent Emiratisation staffing policy is in place “to develop capabilities for the future needs of the country” says Anderson.

    “We are looking to place Emiraties in key areas – we want a strong local presence in our organisation and we are recruiting from school leaver level to graduates. Serco has partnered with the best universities, colleges and schools in Dubai to build a sustainable pipeline for local talent.
    “The metro has five different training and development schemes charting a career path for engineers. Furthermore, through attachments around the world we have been able to introduce disciplines new to the UAE, which is exciting and shows are commitment to the future. And the policy is working; three of our eight senior directors are Emiratie,” Anderson points out.


    Returning to the issue of security and Al Kader points out that, with the mixed service nature of the metro, RTA has embedded stringent key performance indicators (KPIs) into Serco’s contract. “Security is fundamental. For example, the network will be servicing Dubai Airport’s Terminal 3 so you have the big issues such as baggage handling to be managed. On the other hand you have routine day to day operational tasks such as making sure the carriages, stations and concourse stay clean.

    “The service has to be managed seamlessly at every interface. In partnership with Serco we will be monitoring standards and agreed service improvements regularly,” says Al Kader.

    Anderson agrees. “The level of expectation across the board is high, but we’re confident we will meet them through a rigorous programme of mystery shoppers and customer surveys’ on punctuality, cleanliness and presentation. We will have people on the ground on a daily basis walking the floor, using their eyes and talking to passengers. It’s labour intensive and very hands-on, but model’s such as Madrid’s underground have proven this is the only way to ensure the network runs on time, is clean and safe.

    “We are transparent and have a mandate for continual improvement from the RTA, from which we have long term support,” Anderson concludes.

    Roll on September 9th 2009 and the opening of the Red Line.

    Dubai Metro
    Dubai Metro