x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The transformation begins ...

Before now, only six per cent of Dubai residents used public transport with the opening of the Red Line there is hope that people will abandon their love affair with cars.

It has cost billions of dirhams more than expected, driven the city's drivers to distraction for the worst part of four years and caused homeowners hope and anguish in equal measure, depending on the proximity of their property to any of the 29 stations along its length.

And when Dubai Metro's 52km Red Line is formally opened tonight, the city will go about discovering if it has all been worth it. When work on the Red Line began on August 21, 2005, the cost of the project was put at Dh9.1 billion (US$2.5bn); including the future Green Line, the bill was Dh15.5bn. This morning, as the final touches are being put to the 10 stations that will be open for tonight's grand launch, the price is closer to Dh28bn.

Distinguished guests and VIPs will gather this evening at 7.45 at the Mall of the Emirates station for the inaugural journey, led by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who will officially open the Red Line. As their train tours the line, they will ride high above city streets that for the past four years have been diverted, blocked, closed and even disappeared completely as the mammoth task of creating 44km of viaducts, 4.7km of tunnels and 3.3km of ground-level track proceeded. If the hopes of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) come true and thousands abandon their cars for the Metro's carriages, these streets will now be transformed again congested arteries unblocked at a stroke.

It is a tall order in a city embroiled in a love affair with the car and where only six per cent of residents use public transport, but by 2020 the RTA hopes the Metro and its associated bus links will have boosted this figure to 30 per cent. Price could be the key factor; the maximum fare on the Metro will be Dh4.50 for a journey that by taxi could cost around Dh80. The attention of the contractors will now turn to the task of tidying up the mess left behind by the most ambitious engineering project the UAE has ever seen. Gone will be the makeshift and frequently baffling and dangerous junctions that have plagued motorists on the Sheikh Zayed Road - a turning that was there in the morning but vanished by the evening commute.

And a city divided so long by the great road will find itself joined again, not just by the train that will carry its citizens to parts they have never explored, but also by the 19 bridges that will bring together communities on either side of the 14-lane divide. Not everything has gone to plan. The talismanic date of the ninth day of the ninth month, 2009, has long been understood to be the day on which the Metro would be launched, and the RTA and its many contractors have worked around the clock to bring the achievement to pass.

Until the last minute, however, it was not clear when the public would be allowed aboard. Now only a few lucky winners of Golden Tickets will have the privilege of travelling on the magic day; commuters will have to wait until tomorrow morning to find out if the Metro is going to change their lives. Only 10 of the Red Line's 29 stations will be operational: Rashidiya; Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport; City Centre; Al Rigga; Union Square; Khalid bin Al Waleed; Jafliah; Financial Centre; Mall of the Emirates; and Nakheel Harbour and Tower. The other 19 are expected to be open by February.

Also running behind schedule is the Green Line, an additional 22.5km of track and 18 stations, that will run from Jedaff, cross under the Creek by Al Shindagha Tunnel and through Deira to the Sharjah border at Al Qusais. According to the RTA, this part of the project is already three months behind schedule. According to a survey carried out by Limitless, a property developer, Dubai residents drive on average 24 days a month, with 80 per cent using the car all week, every week. But the survey also found that one in four people intended to use the Metro three times a week and one in five, five days a week.

It remains to be seen exactly whom the Metro will benefit, and how, but property owners could be among the winners and losers. The survey found that when choosing somewhere to live in Dubai, having a Metro station near by was the most important factor for almost one in three. But without doubt, today is a "momentous date", according to Dubai International Financial Centre, which yesterday issued an assessment of the economic impact of the Metro, "the first major new railway infrastructure in the Arabic peninsula in several decades and the only urban mass transit system".

It was, said the DIFC, "another sign that Dubai is achieving world-class status in urban planning and quality of living". While the technological achievement was impressive, it said, "the economic benefits and consequences will be profound." "Massive public investments in infrastructure represent the cornerstone of Dubai's development strategy as envisioned by its leadership." These investments in infrastructure "have provided a powerful thrust to economic growth and sparked deep structural changes in the Dubai economy, leading to one of the most amazing and fast processes of economic diversification recorded in the world."

Without "the enormous effort in endowing Dubai with state of the art infrastructure, the human capital attracted to the emirate from all over the world would not have been used to its full extent," the statement said. Public spending on infrastructure projects such as the Metro produces positive economic returns, it said. "The bottom line is that well-designed, business-orientated infrastructure is both directly productive, benefiting the economy by reducing the cost of private business transactions, and is an asset for the future productivity of the private sector.

eharnan@thenational.ae