People Carrier: The Dubai Tram

How Dubai’s $1bn tram network was built

ANALYSIS, Projects, Al sufouh tram, DUBAI TRAM, Rta dubai

Construction of Dubai’s $1bn tram project is complete, following an official launch event that took place on 11 November when Dubai’s Crown Prince His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum became the project’s first passenger.

The official launch event was marked with a series of fireworks being let off at each of the 11 stations that have been opened as part of the $1.08bn (AED4bn) first phase of the project, which has been several years in the making.

The design-build consortium who have been responsible for delivering the project, Belhasa Six Construct (Besix) and Alstom, were originally appointed in 2008, but there were some delays over funding issues and work was halted between October 2009 and the end of 2011. Contracts were re-signed in October 2011, with delivery taking a further three years.

Parsons was appointed by the consortium as design consultant in May 2009 and was responsible for a number planning studies and surveys, as well as engineering designs.

Phase one of the project has consisted of a 10.6km link which runs from the Jumeirah Beach Residences (JBR) district through to Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Dubai Marina, Mina Seyahi, Dubai Media City, Palm Jumeirah and Knowledge Village before terminating at Al Sufouh.

Speaking on the launch day for the project, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) chairman HE Matter Al Tayer, said: “The Dubai Tram is a brainchild of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to provide an advanced transit system that serves the JBR, Marina and Al Sufouh.

“At the establishment of the RTA in 2005, HH directed to thrash out integrated and comprehensive solutions for the area in order to accommodate the huge urbanisation projects in the neighbourhood, particularly JBR and the Marina. Through an international consultant, the RTA compiled a comprehensive study which concluded that the area needs an integrated solution involving radical improvements of road networks, intersections and a mass transit system linked to the Dubai Metro and monorail of the Palm Jumeirah.”

Al Tayer said that Sheikh Mohammed then subsequently endorsed the study’s findings and gave the red light to a “unique” system in terms of safety and luxury standards.

The work initially involved an urban integration study, station planning, traffic studies and utilities designs, including redirections of water and power lines.

Re-routing of traffic during the works programme was another major aspect, particularly given that the reasoning behind the tram has been to ease some of the congestion caused by the sheer weight of cars visiting the popular Jumeirah Beach Residences and Marina districts.

Indeed, this is the first time within the GCC that a new tramway system has been integrated within an existing urban environment, which was one of the main challenges that the project team had to address.

In terms of the breakdown of work, Parsons was responsible for structures design for 11 stations, one maintenance depot, a 2.5km viaduct and the strengthening of two, 120m span roadbridges passing over Dubai Marina to ensure they could handle the tram’s heavier loads. The planned route through the JBR area was also altered slightly to take the tram off a service road and into the centre of the carriageway (with traffic flowing either side). This reduced the number of points at which the tram and vehicles came into contact with each other, which cut both traffic time and the potential for accidents.

For the two consortium members, Besix has been responsible for all of the civil works in terms of building the stations, the maintenance depot, new cycle routes adjoining the tram and the reconfiguration of 26 road junctions – some of which are among the busiest in the city.

Alstom has been responsible for providing the systems and the rolling stock for what is a tremendously advanced project, with a number of firsts.

For instance, it is the first in the world to operate a catenary-free network all the way along the lines, using APS ground-level power cables. It is also the first to be able to run at temperatures of up to 50° Celsius and to withstand harsh conditions such as high levels of humidity and a sandy atmosphere. Moreover, it is also the first line to be equipped with air-conditioned stations and automatic platform screen doors which synchronise with tram doors to prevent air leakage. A number of air-conditioned footbridges have also been built to link over roads in some of the busiest crossing areas such as Al Sufouh Street, Media City and Dubai Marina Mall.

Given that this is a design-build contract, the consortium also had the responsibility of synchronising all of the consultants and subcontractors on the project to ensure that it met key milestones along the way, such as the beginning of test runs along the route of the track in January this year.

In terms of numbers, more than 150,000m3 of concrete has been used in the construction of the route, as well as 8,500 tons of steel reinforcement and 2,400 tons of structural steel. Some 22km of track has been laid, 190km of cabling, 127,000m2 of asphalt and 4,600m2 of GRC cladding.


The work has also included the installation of 13 new power substations, 29 signalised crossing junctions and 38 ticket vending machines, as well as 88 contactless ticket validators.

In total, the consortium building the network has racked up more than 82mn man-hours this year alone to ensure that it met its milestone opening date. At peak, the consortium had up to 6,500 people, including subcontractors, working on the project – 140 of these Parsons engineers.

Alstom’s Citadis trams are being used on the network. There are 11 that have been commissioned under phase one, and for the first time anywhere these trams are carrying three passenger classes – Gold, Ladies & Children, and Silver. Each tram has seven carriages, is 44m long and has a capacity to accommodate 408 riders. At launch, the network has the capacity to handle 27,000 people, but this is expected to increase to 66,000 by 2020 – by which time the second phase of the network will complete.

The Besix-Alstom consortium is responsible for maintenance of the tram system for a 13-year period, which is extendable for a further five years. However, the network will be operated by Serco – the UK-based organisation also responsible for running the Dubai Metro.

It signed a $28.6mn contract for a 75-month period – starting in August 2013, with the first 15 months set aside for preparation, including the recruitment and training of Emirati staff.

In terms of the second phase of the tram’s development, this will involve the construction of a further 4km and six new stations that will extend to Burj Al Arab and Mall of the Emirates by 2020.

Speaking at Construction Week’s UAE Leaders in Construction conference in March, the CEO of the RTA’s Rail Agency, Abdulla Yousef Al Ali, said that tenders for the second phase of the project are likely to be released in November 2015 – one year on from the launch of the first phase.

He added that a third phase would eventually bring the tram line along Jumeirah Beach Road to 2nd of December St by 2025.

At the launch, Al Tayer said that the overall aim of the project was to “improve mobility within Dubai in general, and areas of tourist and economic importance served by the tramway in particular.

“It enhances the business, trade and tourism structures as well as the economic base of the Emirate, besides minimising carbon emissions.”

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