According to officials close to the project, DM will invite five firms to bid for the operations contract, which is likely to run for 15 years. A tender is also expected to be issued by year-end to appoint an independent safety assessor.

In a keynote address delivered on his behalf at the Second MEED Middle East Rail Projects conference in Dubai on 27 September, general co-ordinator of the Dubai Metro Project Nasser Ahmed Saeed said that there were plans to expand the new system. ‘Further subprojects being considered include the possible development of a blue line that would link the existing airport with the new Jebel Ali airport.’ The speech was delivered by Abdelqader Elshabani, transport and traffic specialist at the Dubai rail project office in Dubai Municipality.

Work on the third line would begin once the first lines are completed. The blue line would also service areas between terminals with initial plans calling for a three-track line with one connecting the two airports directly. Several other expansions linking the rail system with Dubai’s major real estate projects were also under consideration, including connecting downtown Deira with the proposed Palm Deira. DM has raised 40 per cent of the capital cost by selling 24 plots of land close to the stations. It is also planning to build 16 stops at shopping centres and charge malls for direct access.

Work on the eagerly anticipated rail network is expected to break ground in late October at Union Station, the largest of the network’s stations. The first phase of the project, the red line, will be completed in September 2009, and will link the Rashidiya depot and Jebel Ali, passing Dubai International Airport, and through Deira and Bur Dubai before running alongside Sheikh Zayed highway. The second phase connecting Dubai Healthcare City to the network will be completed six months later.

With Dubai’s population increasing at an average of about 6 per cent a year, the LRT is considered vital to resolving the growing traffic problems in the emirate. The objective is for the metro to handle about 1.85 million passengers a day by 2020.

A team of France’s Systraand US-based Parsons Internationalis the programme manager.