x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Metro marks the pace of Dubai's journey

Let the train take the strain. From tomorrow the inhabitants of Dubai can abandon their Land Cruisers, Bugattis and buses.

Let the train take the strain. From tomorrow the inhabitants of Dubai can abandon their Land Cruisers, Bugattis and buses. The most visible outward sign of the city's success might be the Palm, the Burj Dubai or the Mall of the Emirates, but its most significant development could be the elevated track over Dubai's sands that will whisk passengers around in the time it takes for the traffic lights to change on the Sheikh Zayed road.

It is a welcome achievement. All great cities have metros. London's first line opened on January 10, 1863, initially called the Metropolitan Railway, with trains powered by steam engines. Within a few months of opening it was carrying more than 25,000 passengers a day. The invention of electricity was a boon to the building of underground railways, with Paris, New York, Budapest and Boston all boasting their own lines by the turn of the 20th century. Other cities followed suit. Moscow's is one of the most impressive, with giant stations decorated like palaces. In the Middle East Cairo and Tehran also have an underground, as does Damascus.

Dubai's own Metro is a very 21st century affair. It was built in rapid time by Mitsubishi and partners. Just four years after their Dh12 billion bid, passengers will be able to cruise from the Palm to Festival City, from the Mall of the Emirates to the airport. Yet again Dubai has proved certain sceptics wrong. For the first time ever the stations have been sold for their naming rights. The First Gulf Bank station has a rather wordy name, although it's much easier to deal with than the GGICO station, which has been bought by the Gulf General Investment Company.

There may be quibbles. Some think the line should be extended to Sharjah; others suggest it should come to Abu Dhabi. Nevertheless, first class passengers will be able to lounge in leather armchairs; women and children will have their own carriages. One can only wonder what the first inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula would make of all this. From the first wheel to roll across the dirt to a Japanese train flying beneath it may have taken a few thousand years. The arrival of the Metro marks a great leap forward for the Gulf.

Nobody can imagine how the Metro will change the city; it will take on a life of its own. Paris's metro, for example, is renowned for its well-dressed travellers and its curious smell; London for its lengthy delays (let's hope there are none of those), weird exhortations such as "Mind the Gap" and its tuneless buskers whom you have to pay to stop singing. No doubt Dubai's entrepreneurial population will work out a way of entertaining the travellers while encouraging them to part with their money. It's a pity that safety issues mean that smoking will be banned; how pleasing it would be to smoke shisha in one of those leather armchairs.

But the advice is clear: leave the Ford Mustang at home. From today forward it's my city, my Metro, as the advertising people say. There's no end to where it can take us.