Metro's Green Line runs towards August debut

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By Ramola Talwar Badam  www.thenational.ae

DUBAI // The Metro system’s Green Line is on track to open in August as testing to evaluate its preparedness continues.

Ramadan Mohammed, the director of the Roads and Transport Authority’s (RTA) rail operations department, said regular trials were carried out through the Ramadan period to assess the line’s track, brake and power systems. Staff will train on the existing Red Line for as long as four months.

In addition, as was the case with the opening of the Red Line, the connecting infrastructure will need to be completed. Putting bus feeder lines, area maps and taxi stands in and around stations was part of the process of establishing the system as an integral part of Dubai’s daily routine, Mr Mohammed said.

“The RTA is keen that the Metro gradually builds the foundation of public transport in the emirate by increasing awareness of the network’s reach,” he said. “What we are trying to do is increase public awareness. Slowly [people] will understand and learn the system. We are trying to educate people to promote the concept of mass transit.”

The Metro will be the world’s longest driverless train system upon completion. Passengers have made a total of 30 million trips since its inauguration exactly a year ago. On an average weekday, 120,000 trips are made on the Red Line; 130,000 on weekend days.

Much like last year’s staggered opening of the Red Line, in which 10 of the planned 29 stations initially began service, to be followed by another 11 this year, the 18 stand-alone Green Line stations may not open simultaneously. RTA authorities plan to assess which stations should open depending on construction and the population around them, Mr Mohammed said.

“It all depends on ridership – that will help decide,” Mr Mohammed said. “For some busy stations on the Green Line, we will move some Red Line staff to support them,” he said.

Other new services being prepared include a one-day pass aimed at tourists, a monthly pass, as well as special cards for students and the elderly.

“All these services are coming along. It’s coming in phases,” Mr Mohammed said.

Commuters welcomed the idea of the new passes, saying a card for tourists would make travel more convenient for them than buying a nol card, a permanent pass that can be topped up many times.

“I have four silver nol cards lying around for visitors,” said Peter Uber, a German expatriate. “It’s a mad scramble to find the cards when we have guests. Day passes for tourists make much more sense.”

The Green Line is likely to expand ridership numbers if it proves as popular as the Red Line was upon opening. The day after the Metro opened as many as 45,000 passengers rode the Red Line, and ridership numbers have increased by as many as 10,000 a month.

Metro users can also look forward to taking bicycles on board in future. Bikes are allowed on the Metro in cities such as Washington, Chicago and Montreal, with some restrictions on peak-hour travel, the number of bikes allowed per coach, and which coach.

Mr Mohammed also addressed the issue of the Metro’s relatively brief operating hours compared to other systems, citing the need for regular upkeep and maintenance.

“We have to stop the trains at night for maintenance work, to check the track, for cleaning and any corrective, preventive work,” Mr Mohammed said. “When the trains are running nobody can go on to the track. It’s dangerous and not allowed.”

He also justified the Metro opening after 2 pm on Friday, citing RTA studies that showed commuter traffic peaked after 4 pm.

“In the afternoon, there are some people, but not huge numbers,” he said. “It is not viable for us to operate when there are very few passengers. If you look at the roads in reality to take an impression, Friday morning is very quiet.”

The numbers

Number of trips per month:

October 2009 1.8 million
May 2010 3.19 million
August 2010 3.3 million

Daily use:

October 2009 54,683 trips
July 2010 130,529 trips

rtalwar@thenational.ae