Dubai’s metro, the centrepiece of an ambitious plan to promote public transport and tackle car dependency

The car has long been the mainstay of transport in the Gulf region.

But that’s changing. In the United Arab Emirates, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) is leading the way to a low-carbon future with a major programme of public transport investments designed to combat congestion, cut emissions and stimulate economic growth.

Upon its 5th Anniversary, 500,000 passengers now use the Dubai metro on a daily basis and it boasts a punctuality rate above 99%, making it one of the most punctual systems we have ever seen in the world.


A complete mobility solution

The Dubai Metro is a powerful symbol of the government’s commitment to extend the role of public transport and it’s a showcase for the most advanced transport technologies. At 70km, it is the world’s longest driverless metro and it provides – for the first time – a fast, comfortable and attractive alternative to journeys by road.

Thales’ technology and expertise played a decisive role in bringing the Dubai Metro to life.

“Thales has delivered a complete urban mobility solution for Dubai” says Henri Le Tertre, Thales’ account manager for the project. “Our turnkey solution includes signalling, communications, supervision, security and fare collection – everything the customer needs to guarantee safe, seamless and efficient journeys in Dubai.”

The metro’s Red line, opened on September 9 2009 stretches for more than 50km and connects the centre of the city with major commercial and residential developments along Dubai’s coastal strip. The Green line, entered service in  2011 provides a link to the international airport and will transform travel around Dubai Creek, the waterway that divides the city.


City challenge

Encouraging people to leave their cars at home and take public transport instead is a challenge in cities everywhere. But in Dubai – which is predominantly urban and conceived with cars in mind – that challenge is even tougher. Cars are relatively inexpensive; taxes and running costs are low, with petrol four times cheaper than it is in Europe.

Dubai’s climate also encourages car use. High daytime temperatures mean that air conditioned transport is essential, particularly in summer when average temperatures exceed 40 degrees centigrade.

It’s easy to understand why cars are popular. But soaring vehicle ownership has brought with it the problems of air pollution, accidents and traffic jams. According to the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), Dubai’s economy was set back by Dh2.9 billion in terms of loss in working hours, time and fuel in 2013 (source: Gulf News)


Building a better metro

The Dubai Metro counters the challenge of rising car ownership with a transport alternative that is modern, efficient and attractive. With ridership reaching 30 million in its first full year of operation, the metro is already proving its ability to promote modal shift. By 2020, the government expects 30% of journeys to be made using the metro, tram or bus, up from 11% today.

Thales’ communications-based train control (CBTC) solution, SelTrac® CBTC, is one of the technologies driving the success of the metro. SelTrac® CBTC meets the customer’s need for safe and reliable driverless operations with low operating and maintenance costs.

Modern CBTC signalling provides flexibility, allowing operators to manage service disruptions with minimum passenger impact. And because SelTrac® CBTC incorporates moving block technology, operators get the most out of their infrastructure, with headways optimised to meet demand now and in the future.


Seamless mobility

Promoting the shift from private to public transport means making journeys as simple as possible, so ticketing needs to be versatile and easy to use.  Thales’ fare collection system for the Dubai Metro uses the latest contactless card technology to achieve this, providing easy multi-modal journeys with a single card. Thales’ solution includes access gates, ticket vending machines, station computers and a central control system.





“Passengers can use the Dubai ‘Nol’ card to take journeys on all public transport” says Thales’ Henri Le Tertre. “As well as the metro, it can be used on buses and water buses. It can also be used to pay for parking.”

On any given journey, passengers may use a variety of modes of transport – including their cars. To support the need for multimodal journeys, Thales has also deployed its market-proven WiLiX car park management system at three car parks linked to the metro.


Attract and retain

The ability to provide a comfortable, pleasant and productive environment plays an important part in winning new passengers and retaining existing ones. Keeping passengers informed – and connected – is vital.

To meet this need, Thales provided a comprehensive passenger information system, which includes displays and public address both on stations and on trains. And by providing Wi-Fi connectivity for every train on the network, passengers can make the best use of time spent travelling around the city.

Thales has also supplied a complete operational communications system, which includes a telecommunications backbone, digital and wireless networks, voice and TETRA radio.


Enhanced security

Thales’ solution for the Dubai Metro incorporates advanced video surveillance technology, with 3,000 cameras to monitor the network. It’s a solution that embraces the whole metro environment, including platforms, trains, stations and their surroundings.

“The ability to meet the security needs of the customer is of vital importance in this market” emphasises Mr Le Tertre. “That means creating a secure environment for both passengers and staff. It is also about maintaining system availability. To enhance resilience, we have provided two Operation Control Centres.”


Building for tomorrow

With proven efficiencies SelTrac™CBTC allows critical infrastructures, such as airports, to market the distance of their location from a traveler’s point of origin with confidence. Dubai World Central, for example, expects 220 million passengers to travel through the airport after all development is complete.

Transferring those passengers between the city center and the airport becomes critical to the airports reputation as a seamless hub and its operation, since in other cities, delayed trains all too often cause a domino effect that disrupts air traffic control and/or terminal crowd management.

As a consequence, the RTA will extend one of its lines out to the airport and with the right technology it can guarantee travel times to ensure the airport is able to focus on its core competencies.


Thales has been awarded a 5 year maintenance contract for the world’s longest driverless metro network, in Dubai, UAE. This  new contract for Dubai Metro follows the implementation by Thales of its driverless metro packaged solution on the Red and Green Line. Thales’s service solutions include remote on-site support and corrective maintenance ensuring system knowledge and recovery. The team will deliver efficient, competitive and sustainable services while ensuring the highest levels of passenger safety and comfort. Local experts will be supported by Thales’s worldwide expertise when resolving critical issues. By working with regional industrial powerhouses regarding urban transport and main lines, Thales is further cementing its presence in the region.


“ The Dubai metro is being designed to provide its users with optimum class and reliability.Benchmarking it to cities around the world that use Thales technology convinced us to bring Thales on board.”

Abdulmajid Al Khaja,Former CEO Rail Agency, RTA