Dubai's Metro was declared open for business last night, with a fanfare worthy of the Gulf's first rapid mass transit system. When a giant clock reached 09:09:09 on 9/9/09, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE, swiped a personalised plastic card at a ticket barrier and took his place as the first passenger on a network that will, when finished, have cost an estimated Dh28 billion (US$7.6bn).
Followed by hundreds of dignitaries, he took the trip from Mall of the Emirates, stopping to inaugurate several stops on his way to Rashidiya station. The VIPs filled the five carriages of Sheikh Mohammed's train, and another that pulled up behind as the first left the station. A little later, a third train left the Nakheel Harbour and Tower station with 400 members of the public, the winners of "golden tickets", picked from about 10,000 people who entered an online competition.
One of them, MV Martin, said: "I can't believe I am going to be part of history." He had come for the ride with his wife, Mary, and said they both intended to use the service "on a daily basis". Before the journey, Sheikh Mohammed called the Metro "something totally new to the Dubai population", adding: "It will take some time before people get used to it and realise its importance. "I would like for the UAE to stand on the same par as other countries in this and other aspects," he said, adding that the project bore "a major and profound significance, as it constitutes a historic turning point".