Construction of Dubai Metro extension a feat of engineering

After the approval of plans to extend Dubai Metro to the Expo 2020 site in Jebel Ali, The National looks at what goes into building an overground and underground mass-transit system.

The Dubai Metro will be extended by 15km to reach the Expo 2020 site in Jebel Ali. Andrew Henderson / The National)
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DUBAI // It took more than 1,000 experts to turn the Dubai Metro dream into a reality and build the first driverless rail network in the Middle East.

At 75 kilometres, the metro is the longest service of its kind and it will grow by 15 kilometres after approval last week for an extension that will include seven more stations, taking it to the Expo 2020 site.

The Middle Eastern division of Atkins, a UK engineering and design company, played a major role in the Dubai Metro story, and it is working on similar projects in Doha and Riyadh.

Paul Groves, Atkins design director of tunnels and ground engineering, said: “Riyadh shares many of the characteristics of the Dubai Metro.

“The issues are about land, where there is space, and what the catchment area is for passengers.”

He said there will be 18 underground stations in the Doha metro. Going underground, he said, frees up ground or elevated space for development.

“If you use elevated railway, it is cheaper than underground stations. But with underground stations you retain the commercial value of surface land space,” he said.

“In many of the Gulf cities, many of the underground stations are built with the provision of building on top of them in the future.

“The Burjuman station [in Bur Dubai] was a top-down excavation and built in the roadway. If you [locate] railway stations under junctions, then you can add passenger access entrances at all four corners, so the catchment area for pedestrians is much bigger.”

The new Route 2020 will serve 240,000 people living at The Gardens, Discovery Gardens, Al Furjan, Jumeirah Golf Estates and Dubai Investments Park. The metro serves an estimated 375,000 passengers daily.

Financial figures for the construction have not been released by the Roads and Transport Authority, although it is known that the UAE is spending about Dh111 billion on rail projects, with the Musanada Abu Dhabi Metro costing about Dh18.3bn.

It is understood that the construction cost of the original Dubai Metro project was Dh29.6bn.

“For the extension, the biggest challenge – aside from the design and construction of the network itself – is the need to integrate the new stations with both established and future developments along the route,” said Julian Hill, regional managing director of rail for Atkins.

“This means working with stakeholders, including the developer community, to understand how best to ensure it is future-proofed.

“This will minimise cost and disruption in the years ahead, while maximising the huge potential for the new network to be a catalyst for smart, sustainable urban development along its route.”

Two of the seven new stations, which run from Nakheel Harbour and Tower metro station to the Expo site, will be underground, with substantial sections of the track elevated.

Several underground stations were built for the existing metro, and building this way is more costly and difficult.

Engineers used a top-down excavation method after machines had created tunnels leading into each station site.

Dirt and earth were transported out of the tunnels to minimise disruption on the surface and concrete was inserted from ground level to help form the shell of the station.

Larry McGuinness, an associate director at Ted Jacob Engineering in Dubai, said the extension would provide a significant challenge.

“I would have thought a larger percentage of the new line would be underground or at ground level,” he said.

“Raised rail lines are only usually used in big cities like Mumbai, Bangkok and Singapore, when there is already too much infrastructure at ground level. So it is a surprise they are continuing with that idea in Dubai.”

Dubai Expo 2020 is expected to attract 25 million visitors and has been the driving force behind a building boom.

Real estate agents are expecting average sale prices to decline by up to 10 per cent this year, but property in areas close to metro stations such as Business Bay and Jumeirah Lakes Towers have enjoyed improved premiums when compared with others further away.

Craig Plumb, head of research for Mena at JLL real estate, expects to see a further bounce in the market once the extension is completed.

“There is increasing evidence that locations next to the existing metro are commanding higher prices and rentals,” he said.

“Areas that will benefit most are those within 400 metres of the stations, with a progressive decline in the benefit as you move further away.”