Dubai has the world’s largest, completely automated, driverless metro line — and it shows how far behind the US really is

Dubai has the world's third-largest automated, driverless metro system, a futuristic and highly reliable system that opened in 2009 and continues to be expanded.

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Dubai has the world's largest, completely automated, driverless metro line — and it shows how far behind the US really is
Dubai has the world's largest, completely automated, driverless metro line — and it shows how far behind the US really is

Visiting Dubai can often feel like hopping into a time machine to the future. The city emerges out of the desert seemingly from nowhere, with each gleaming skyscraper, landmark, and new building looking more futuristic than the last.

Dubai’s decade-old metro system is no different. The bullet-shaped stations lie above ground like golden space pods and the trains race through the center of the city, weaving past skyscraper after skyscraper.

It’s not just the shape and aesthetic that make the metro futuristic, but the underlying technology as well.

All of Dubai’s 49-station, 46-mile metro is completely automated and driverless, making it the third-largest such system in the world, after systems in Singapore and Vancouver. The city’s Red Line, which runs like an artery through the heart of Dubai, is still the longest single driverless metro line in the world.

And it’s getting larger. The city is currently constructing a third line— called Route 2020 — that will connect the southwestern Dubai with the site of the World Expo, which Dubai is hosting in 2020. The city is also constructing extensions to the existing Red and Green lines.

The practical result is that the automated metro has quickly turned local travel — previously a battle through traffic-choked highways in a car-reliant city — into a seamless, fast, and incredibly reliable travel experience. So long as you are traveling within the city, it’s far more convenient than driving, as I found on a recent trip to Dubai.

While Dubai is far from the only city with a fully automated metro, most of the other similar systems lie in Asia and Europe. In the US, automated trains are currently limited to airports and a few very limited lines in Miami, Detroit, and West Virginia.

The best of the US’s metro systems is likely still the New York City subway, but even that system is crumbling.

Traveling on Dubai’s metro is an entirely different experience, as I learned when I recently rode the Red Line to downtown: More info

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