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Construction of the new tram system running through the marina area along Sheikh Zayed Road. Roadworks are expected to continue until the end of 2010.
Construction of the new tram system running through the marina area along Sheikh Zayed Road. Roadworks are expected to continue until the end of 2010.

Dubai tram network gets on track

The Al Sufouh Tram system is designed to cater to more than 180,000 commuters a day, and work on the initial 9km phase is well under way.

DUBAI // In the shadow of one of Dubai's distinctive Metro stations, another transport project to transform the city is beginning to take shape. The construction work marks the site where the Dh4 billion (US$1.09bn) Al Sufouh Tram system will one day carry hundreds of thousands of passengers in an integrated travel system linking up some of the most densely populated and congested districts with the rest of the city.

With the Dubai Marina Metro station, still unfinished, as a backdrop, the diggers are working away on the first phase of the tramway's 9km stretch. Residents in the Marina are by now familiar with the sight of roads being ripped up, coned-off areas and red-and-white barriers blocking their path. Unfortunately, the traffic mayhem will continue for another year until the end of 2010 according to a senior official from the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA).

Construction of the 19.5km tram line, which will run through Al Sufouh and past Media City before it loops around the Marina, has been the cause of several road diversions around the area, much to the frustration of people living there. "Just when you think things are being finished off properly around the Marina, along they come and rip the road up and send us driving all over the place," said Martin Chambers, 32, from the UK.

He said the roadworks had been going on for the past few months but his patience was beginning to wear thin. "My tenancy contract is up in two months and I am seriously considering moving to the other side of the marina. "I can't really handle the traffic down here any more." Once completed, the tram line will run from Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) to the Marina and through Al Sufouh Road to serve Dubai Internet City, Dubai Pearl, Knowledge Village and Dubai College. It will link up with the Red Line of the Dubai Metro at three points on Sheikh Zayed Road, and with the monorail on Palm Jumeirah where it meets Al Sufouh Road.

Current construction works are focusing on utilities and traffic diversions, and building a viaduct along Sheikh Zayed Road. The next step will involve laying track, excavation, anchoring and substructure works to station basements, according to Adnan al Hammadi, the director of construction in rail projects at the RTA. Planners have changed the original proposal and moved the track from the side of the road at JBR to the centre of the street. Mr al Hammadi said this was intended to minimise the disruption to residents of JBR.

"The alignment of the tracks has been moved from the lateral side of JBR to the central median. The work is expected to last until the end of 2010." This was news that Alex Stevens, who deals with the daily headache of the roadworks outside his apartment block, did not want to hear. "I know it is normal in Dubai to have roadworks and building but to have this for another year on my doorstep is a bit too much," he said.

"I remember when they started digging up the road in front but there was no notice or idea that this was going to go on for so long. We'll have to wait and see if it will make much of a difference to traffic in the Marina. It might be good if it links up with the Metro." The tram alignment will run along the side of Al Sufouh Road and then shift to the central reservation in Dubai Marina. It will operate in both directions on double tracks except at Dubai Marina where it will operate in an anti-clockwise direction on a single track. The tramway will be segregated from other road users.

It will also have a unique system at road junctions. When the tram approaches, it will automatically get the green light while the other traffic light will get the red. "All road crossings will be controlled by traffic signals, which will be automatically linked to and controlled by the tram," said Mr al Hammadi. The tram will run past JBR towards the Sheraton Hotel but will turn left over the last bridge and go past the Damac Waves building before it reaches Sheikh Zayed Road and travels back towards Dubai.

It will link up the Metro stations at Jumeirah Lake Towers and Dubai Marina, and will travel on viaducts next to Sheikh Zayed Road with no obstruction to traffic on the road that runs past Marina Mall. "Most of the tram alignment is at grade except for approximately 2.2km of elevated section along the marina side of Sheikh Zayed Road," said Mr al Hammadi. The tram system will have 19 stations and will be built in two phases. The first will have 13 stations as well as the tram depot and is scheduled for completion by April 2011.

The trams will run on electricity provided by ground cables. Work on the first cars began in October in France. Alstom, the French firm tasked with bringing the public transport system to life, said the first track bed had also been laid. The trams will be 44 metres long with a capacity of 305 passengers per car, and capable of whisking commuters at 25kph for 20 hours a day. A journey the entire length of the line is expected to take around 30 minutes in either direction.

"The tram is designed to cater to the commuting needs of around 180,000 residents a day," said Mr al Hammadi. According to the RTA, the Al Sufouh Tram will be the world's first tram network to use platform screen doors fully aligned with the car doors' opening and closing mechanisms, the same system used in Dubai Metro's stations. Al Sufouh Tram will also be the lone tram project with fully enclosed, air-conditioned stations.

The tram, like Dubai Metro, will have two classes: first class, called Golden Suite, and a second, known as Silver Class. The Silver Class will have some cars dedicated for women and families. The Dubai Metro, which increased in cost from Dh15bn to Dh28bn in the course of being built, was launched last September with 10 stations. The remaining 19 stations of the 52km Red Line are expected to open in February.

When the Green Line opens in June, it will be the longest driverless metro system in the world. eharnan@thenational.ae

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