Gavin Davids examines the ongoing operations on the construction site of the Dubai Tram
This was swiftly followed by the completion of the Green Line of the Metro in September 2011, extending the metro transport network across the entire city.
Coupled with the pre-existing bus and taxi network, it was assumed that Dubai’s public transport needs were covered for the foreseeable future. However, that would have been an underestimation of the vision of the UAE and the RTA, with plans launched almost immediately to construct a tramway that would encircle the Dubai Marina and Al Sufouh Road.
The project has been designed to be an integral part of the Dubai transport network, linking the Dubai Metro and Palm Monorail. It will run along Al Sufouh Road and Jumeirah Beach Road, from Mall of the Emirates to the Dubai Marina.
Originally planned for completion in 2009, the Dubai Tram project has endured a difficult run, with the economic crisis having delayed it until 2012, and then subsequently to 2014.
It was finally announced, at the end of last year, that testing on the trams would commence in January 2014, ahead of a scheduled November 2014 launch.
“The Dubai Tram is expected to further consolidate the public transport image in Dubai and help improve the accessibility and mobility within Dubai in general, and the new leisure and business districts of the city in particular,” says Abdullah Yousif Al Ali, acting CEO, Rail Agency – RTA, in an exclusive interview with Big Project ME. “Being the first of its kind in the region and one of the most sophisticated tram projects in the world, it will add more value to the existing public transport networks in Dubai.”
On 25 January, 2014 the RTA announced that testing on the $1.02 billion project would begin, with the first zone nearly completed and ready for operation. The second stage of testing has been pencilled in to start on 16 April 2014, the authority says. Testing on zone three – that which connects Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residence – is due to begin on 14 June.
“Test activities include both static and dynamic tests. The first test run went exactly as planned and testing will continue till October 2014 to ensure that all systems are performing and the safety of the tram during operation is assured,” Al Ali explains.
Given that the Tramway is being built in the midst of – and the trams will travel through – pre-existing infrastructure, the challenges associated with the project are considerable.
One of the main causes of the delays has been that the construction team, consisting of a consortium of Alstom, Besix and Parsons, have had to work around utilities that could not under any circumstances, be interrupted, as Al Ali explains.
“(Furthermore) there were a large number of road diversions in an already congested area. As a result, there had to be coordination with a number of developers, who all had different and sometimes conflicting needs,” he adds.
“The Dubai Tram project came immediately after the Dubai Metro project and a large number of lessons learnt on the Metro were implemented on the Tram. We in the RTA usually produce a report containing all the lessons learnt at the end of all our projects,” Al Ali continues to explain. “These are used to develop and improve the works on new projects.
“Some of the most notable lessons learnt are: First, early coordination with all the stakeholders is required to ensure that their needs and requirements are included in the contract.”
“Secondly, the tram and metro projects should be run as an integrated programme of sub-projects to ensure the proper integration of all activities related to the successful launch of revenue service,” he explains further.
However, Al Ali is quick to point out that the consortium is working in tandem with the consultant, Systra and the RTA team, to successfully deliver the project, pointing out that the teams are in daily communication to resolve any issues or difficulties that may arise. He assesses their collaborative effort and performance so far as ‘satisfactory’.
As mentioned earlier, the over-arching plan for the Dubai Tram project is to eventually integrate with the rest of Dubai’s transport infrastructure. As such, the consortium and the RTA Rail Agency have worked together to ensure that the tram
stations are accessible to commuters.
“The building of some of the tram stations near Metro stations was intended to provide a direct link and transfer of passengers between the two modes of public transport. The Dubai Metro project comes as part of the RTA’s strategic plan, which aims to develop an efficient integrated multimodal public transport network for Dubai,” the acting CEO of the Rail Agency explains to Big Project ME.
“The outcome of the Dubai Tram system will help provide a faster and more reliable way to get around in some of the most vital communities in Dubai, with zero emissions and hassles. The trip to Downtown and other major business hubs of Dubai will be more convenient and hassle free, thanks to the new integrated multi-modal rail system of Dubai,” Al Ali asserts.
With the deadline for completion fast approaching, there still remains much to be done. With the current project extending a total of 14.6km, with 17 stations along the way, Al Ali says that Phase I of the tram project is just the start, with plenty more to come.
“The RTA has developed a comprehensive Rail Master Plan that responds to the current and future needs of Dubai,” he explains. “The plan has adopted some proposals for new rail lines (metro and tram), as well as the future extension for some existing lines.”
“In this domain, the current Dubai Tram project is 10.6km, which extends between Dubai Marina and the Tram Depot near the Dubai Police Academy. It represents Phase I of the Dubai Tram project. Phase II will be extended for a further five kilometres and seven stations to both the Mall of the Emirates and Burj Al Arab at Jumeirah Road,” Al Ali says, highlighting the ambitious vision behind the project.