The Metro just got longer

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By Derek Baldwin, Senior Reporter  www.gulfnews.com   XPRESS

Dubai:  Just three months after it was launched, the Dubai Metro is already looking to expand.

The Jebel Ali Industrial station on the Red Line. Under a new deal between the RTA and Dubai World, three more stations are to be added after this stop Image Credit: Xpress/Pankaj sharma
The Jebel Ali Industrial station on the Red Line. Under a new deal between the RTA and Dubai World, three more stations are to be added after this stop Image Credit: Xpress/Pankaj sharma

In an agreement quietly inked between Dubai World and the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), the Dh28 billion Dubai Metro will be extended 11 kilometres along the Red Line westerly from the Jebel Ali depot towards Abu Dhabi.

In addition, three new passenger stations will be added as part of master developer Limitless’ new Downtown Jebel Ali project, increasing the number of stations on the Red Line to 32 from 29, officials confirmed.

The existing Jebel Ali Industrial station, which opens early next year, will serve the first zone of the development.

No precise cost estimate for the Metro extension is available, but it is expected to reach well into billions of dirhams.

Ambitious plan

The agreement stipulates that Limitless (a subsidiary of Dubai World) will cover the cost of constructing three new Metro stations, while the RTA will cover the remaining cost of infrastructure, including the line and new five-car train sets.

“We are committed to build the new stations,” said Salah Ameen, Deputy Executive Director of Limitless, noting that third-party developers will set the pace of construction for the next few years.

Each of the independent developers who have purchased 250 of the 330 building lots of the Downtown Jebel Ali project is contractually obligated to complete their projects within five years from purchase date, said Ameen.

There “has to be something [development] there to go ahead and spend the dollars” on a Metro extension, Ameen said.

Limitless has ambitious plans for the new development which runs along the southern stretch of Shaikh Zayed Road from the vicinity of the Jebel Ali Industrial station towards Abu Dhabi.

Zone One of the mixed-use development is well under construction and is anchored by The Galleries, an eight-building office and residential complex overlooking a 20,000 square-metre outdoor landscaped plaza replete with its own amphitheatre, shaded rest areas and large fountains.

The plaza and green areas dovetail with the Metro Red Line addition, given the aim of the Downtown Jebel Ali project to allow people to move freely on foot from home to work without relying on cars.

Limitless spokesperson Rebecca Rees said all four zones of the development will be interconnected using the Metro, possible tramways and through walkable green corridors that accentuate the feeling of community.

“We aim to move two legs rather than four wheels,” said Rees. “We also know that when it comes to living in Dubai, there are two priorities – people want to be able to walk to work and have access to the Dubai Metro.”

Rees said the priorities are important enough that “people are prepared to pay more to do it”.

Walk and ride

More than half of the available development space in Downtown Jebel Ali’s four zones has been reserved for green areas, she said.

“It will give more life to the development,” Rees added.

While no firm numbers have been prepared for a total population of the new residential-business strip, Limitless said when completed it will easily play host to hundreds of thousands of visitors daily.

A new in-house survey, for example, completed in late October suggests heavy use by commuters of the existing Jebel Ali Industrial Metro station which will service Zone One of Downtown Jebel Ali as well as Jafza (Jebel Ali Free Zone) on the northern side of Shaikh Zayed Road.

“We estimate 200,000 people come and go here every day,” said Ameen. “If you take a minimum of 10 per cent of that number, that would give you 20,000 people who could use this station every day.”

The Jebel Ali Industrial station will open in February next year and is only 200 metres away from Downtown Jebel Ali.

“The whole master planning of Downtown Jebel Ali is based upon people walking, riding the Metro and minimising the use of the car,” Ameen said.

 Software-related glitches responsible for non-synchronisation of platform and train doors still hound the Dubai Metro three months after its launch, sources said.

However, delays due to glitches are negligible, but operators are preparing for more such snags when the 12 train sets currently in use are increased to 20 in time for the opening of the rest of the 19 Red Line stations early next year.

Operators have found a way to “arrest” the door hiccups which still occur “almost daily”.

“It’s akin to re-starting a computer,” a source said.

In the past, the non-synching of door operations has led to delays as the train stalls if either the platform service or train door doesn’t close automatically, posing a knock-on effect on the entire system.

Onboard attendants use a key to open and close doors manually.

Occasionally, trains go on a “time-out” – in which a train set totally loses communication with the system, said sources. Train attendants on board then drive the train manually until operators regain control over it.

With the failure of the door system posing a challenge to operators, an event-free operation is something that can’t be expected soon.

“For most of the day, the trains run smoothly. But it’s not perfect. It will never be perfect. The key is to arrest a problem quickly so riders are not affected,” said a source.

The Roads and Transport Authority’s Rail Agency had no immediate comment.

Downtown Jebel Ali fact file:

200 hectares in total

11km long, 4 zones

Will accommodate 200,000 people

More than 300 buildings

4 metro stations (one in each zone)

About 50 per cent of master plan is communal open space

250 plots of land sold to third party developers

The Galleries

Downtown Jebel Ali’s first community – The Galleries – is rapidly taking shape, said Salah Ameen, Deputy Executive Director of Limitless.

The eight-building complex, within walking distance of a Metro station, includes offices, apartments, retail and cultural facilities, with extensive shaded outdoor areas for walking and relaxation.

As many as 12 companies boast more than 1,000 employees based in The Galleries’ first four office towers while, across the plaza, an additional 300 apartments in the first residential tower are ready for lease.

Not far away, a mosque for 500 worshippers is under construction.

A new cultural hub for the first phase of Downtown Jebel Ali is rising as part of a 20,000 square-metre outdoor plaza, says master developer Limitless.