By Sean Davidson and Aimee Greaves www.business24-7.ae
They came from all walks of life – the businessmen and bankers, office staff and factory workers, students, families, tourists, nationals and expats.
Together, fired by a mixture of curiosity and excitement, yesterday they boarded Dubai Metro for the short ride to their destination and a date with history.
After years of planning and four more of construction, Dubai Metro – the first rail system in the Gulf – was launched on Wednesday night by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Just hours later, as dawn broke over the emirate, the Dh22 billion Metro’s first passengers queued to board one of the many trains running the length of Dubai, from Rashidiya station to Nakheel Harbour and Tower station, near Ibn Battuta Mall.
Passenger numbers on the 40km Red Line grew gradually through the day, with yesterday evening proving very popular, especially at Mall of the Emirates.
Hundreds of people packed the trains arriving from Rashidiya at around 8pm, with trains leaving the mall at around 80 per cent capacity, according to one onlooker.
“It was very well natured, everyone was very excited,” he said. “But there were no screens to inform people when they next train would arrive.”
Public transport being relatively alien to a car-happy nation, the Roads and Transport Authority’s (RTA) biggest hurdle will be to attract people out of their 4x4s permanently. After months of staying tuned to the Metro’s steady development, 17-year-old Emirati Rashid Janahi fulfilled a dream when he stepped into a blue-and-white carriage yesterday.
“I’ve never ridden a train before so it’s a new experience,” he said. “I’m just going from Jafiliya to Mall of the Emirates and back to try it out as I’ve watched it being built.
“It’s a wonderful experience being able to see Dubai from above.”
Ghanim Mohammed, 28, took time off his auditing work at Dubai Municipality to ride the Metro with a friend yesterday.
“I simply had to know where the stations were, what they were like and what the connections from the stations were,” he said.
“I’ve ridden trains in Germany and Spain and I can tell you this beats them. It is far above my expectations. I love the lighting, speed and music,” said Mohammed, who intends to use the Metro twice a week.
There were others that spent the day checking the viability of the Metro for the daily commute.
Prema Valsalan, 59, an engineer at Jebel Ali Port and a resident of Dubai for more than 20 years, rode the full 40km length of the Red Line yesterday morning.
“We are so used to the railway system in India that this is a great development for us,” he said.
“I am on my trial run and will test and assess the fares, time and connectivity from my house in Karama to the station and then from Nakheel [station] to my office in Jebel Ali.
“Obviously, things will change when all the stations and the feeder [services] are ready but I am still very happy,” said Valsalan, who spent the day taking photographs of views from the elevated track.
However, 30-year-old Iranian photographer Mohammed Raphiema was left disappointed by the feeder services – which RTA officials say will improve.
“I wanted to try the Metro as it is the first day,” he said. “The train is good but the feeder bus was too slow.
“I usually drive to work in Deira, which takes 30 minutes, but today I left my home in The Springs at 8.30am as normal and didn’t get on the train at Mall of the Emirates until 9.15am, so it’s put me off.
“Now, I’ll use it more at the weekend because my family will love it.”
Many residents are now looking forward to the opening of the remaining stations and the Green Line, which connects Deira and Bur Dubai to the Red Line.
“I would normally have taken a taxi to get to Mall of the Emirates but decided to use the Metro,” said 31-year-old Australian radiologist Andrew Bull. “If the Green Line was running I’d use it as it’s close to work but as it stands today that’s not possible.”
Others on early runs included Emirates’ airline, worker Daniel Watson and investment banker Sheeraz Fakih.
Watson, 28, from Australia, said: “You won’t find a bigger Metro fan than me – I’ve been counting the days [to it opening] since last Christmas.
“I’m sick of driving my car and catching cabs, and they’re taking a step in the right direction with this. I’ll use it every other day but the station next to work is not yet open.”
Fakih, 38, from Germany, travelled from Deira City Centre to Financial Centre at 10am. “I’m from an engineering background so I wanted to see what Dubai has created and be part of history,” he said.
“I’ll scan my ticket into my computer and sent it to all my friends. The journey to work was fantastic, so well done [to the team behind it]. It’s a piece of art, especially in such a short time.
“I’ll probably use it every day as it’s quicker than the car – it only took me 12 minutes to get here,” he said.
Students, who will play a major role in the Metro’s success, filled the 10 open stations throughout the day. Nineteen-year-old Mohaba Naghavi spent hours doing several trips with different groups of friends who live near different stations.
“We’ve been trying different routes to get to and from the stations close to our houses and Knowledge Village, where we study business. And also how we can travel to each other’s houses,” he said.
“This is a faster way to travel, removes you from the crazy traffic and is great for students,” said the Iranian.
Employees of companies that played roles in the Metro’s development were also on board.
John Carolan, Director of design company KCA International, worked on the Metro’s interiors for four years. Travelling with colleagues on a 9.05am train, he found the service convenient.
“I work in Al Quoz and live in Umm Suqeim so I can walk to a station from both areas,” he said. “It will also be good for visitors as we will be able to pick them up from the station rather than the airport.”
Joining the thousands who opted to abandon their cars in favour of the Metro, the Irishman said he will take the Metro as often as possible.
American Marisa Dietsche, 42, a full-time mum-of-two, and friend Sharmila Mathew, 40, took a joyride, getting on at Mall of the Emirates to ride to Rashidiya, then back to Jebel Ali before returning to Mall of the Emirates. Dietsche said: “It’s been very efficient and the employees enthusiastic. We’re doing the full loop and it’s interesting to see Dubai from a different vantage point.
“We’re both from cities that have metros so we’re used to it but it’s nice to get on one that’s new and clean.”
Said Mathew: “I’m most looking forward to going past Business Bay to see the cluster of buildings from high up.
“We decided to wait until after 9am to let the morning rush pass so it’s pretty quiet but still impressive.”
Meanwhile, Mall of the Emirates and Deira City Centre announced that all parking at the two malls would be free over the weekends and free parking during the weekdays would be extended to four hours. The free trial period of the system has also been extended until Saturday, October 3.