The experience of travelling at 45kph to 90kph on a train without a driver will be a new one for many Metro passengers, and the Roads and Transport Authority says it has gone to great lengths to ensure that the trains are safe. In fact, safety was cited as the reason that 19 of the Metro's 29 stations will not be opening on time.
"We don't want the system to break down," said Mattar al Tayer, the chairman of the board and executive director of the RTA. "We do not want to compromise safety." The organisation charged with scrutinising safety on the Metro is the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), the safety regulator of Britain's railways. The independent ORR, led by a board whose members are appointed by the British government's secretary of state for transport, signed a memorandum of understanding with the RTA last December 17 to provide strategic advice and support on a range of issues.
These included the development of health and safety regulations, the setting up of databases to capture and analyse railway performance and safety data and the training and mentoring of RTA staff. Since then, ORR teams have been scrutinising tracks and processes to make sure everything is up to recognised standards. The RTA has also drafted its own international team of experienced rail-safety experts, including Stanley Robertson, the former UK Chief Inspector of Railways, and Michael Etwell and Amair Saleem, who were both part of the certification team for the recent Taiwan High Speed Rail Project, which began operations at the start of 2007.
Every kind of emergency has been anticipated, and local climate conditions taken into account. "If a carriage got stuck, we would have to make sure it had air-conditioning," said Allen Spence, the deputy chief inspector of the ORR. "The operators will put the emergency evacuation procedures in place, and the RTA will oversee that." A power failure is a remote prospect since there are two standby generators should the first one fail. If for any reason a train cannot be driven to the nearest station, passengers will be evacuated on to walkways on either side of the tracks. The longest walk they would face is 350 metres to one of the emergency evacuation staircases that lead to ground level, located every 700 metres along the line, in accordance with international safety standards.
Standing by to help in event of emergencies will be a response team comprised of specialists from Dubai Police, the train operator Serco, the RTA, the ambulance service and Dubai Civil Defence. "The Department of Civil Defence is making every effort to achieve its full readiness and strategic partners to deal with various emergency situations in order to implement all the requirements of safety, protection and ensuring coverage of operational requirements for rescue and fire fighting," said Maj Gen Rashid Thani al Matrooshi, the director general of the department.
Trains will be protected from the possibility of derailment by a central concrete plinth that runs the length of each of the twin tracks, while a "wayside obstacle detection system" is designed to detect objects on the line, which in a number of places passes under road bridges. Passenger safety will be further protected by closed-circuit TV cameras - several in every train and 3,000 outside along the 52km length of the tracks.
Computers will play a safety role. Collisions are a common cause of deaths in railway systems throughout the world, but the software overseeing the Dubai Metro network is designed to prevent any possibility of this. If one train breaks down or stops for any reason, every train on the system is halted where it is or is moved to the nearest station. The Automatic Train Protection system keeps staff in a central control room fully informed about the location and movement of every train and automatically prevents any one getting too close to another.
Although the Dubai Metro is billed as "the world's longest driverless rail system", each train will carry a human driver who can take control in emergencies and has been trained in first aid. And the city has a new law-and-order force: Dubai Transport Police will provide security along the Metro lines. By the time the Green Line is completed next year, up to 600 uniformed officers will be in action. The officers, who have the power of arrest, have been trained by the British Transport Police. Among other skills they have been taught how to spot and deal with suspect packages, including explosive devices.