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A Shock to "the system" - By Rebecca Wicks

News came in this week that Dubai's new Metro is probably going to be finished ahead of schedule. That's right, fellow expats and train-enthusiasts, you read it right; parts of the world's largest automated Metro project are wrapping up early.

Dubai Metro - An Artist's ImpressionOf course, upon hearing this news, my London trained ears pricked up immediately. I felt a protective shield of cynicism snake itself around my heart, not wanting to get hurt again. Not wanting it to be like before. You can't say things like this to us ex Londoners, really, not unless you mean it. The words 'Metro', and 'train' simply don't co-exist harmoniously with the line 'ahead of schedule'. Do they?

I've been through enough schedule-related pain to last a lifetime. Back when I was a happy-go-lucky young Londoner, travelling to work on the tube, I started out with a jolly smile and the kind of blessed optimism felt only by an innocent commuter before experiencing the underground rush hour. Naturally, it was barely a week before I too had adopted the "head down and scowl" policy. My happiness had more often than not abandoned me by the time I'd squished myself semi-comfortably into the armpit of an odorous stranger, just to get a space on the Victoria Line… if the train turned up at all.

By the time I left London, it was a rare blessing if I reached my nearest tube station and found the trains running. Days of "work on the tracks" turned into months, which then turned into several permanent closures. Most closures went unmentioned. Quite often I wouldn't notice anything was wrong until, after 40 minutes of silence, the only other people still waiting to board alongside me were a homeless man with questionable smells emanating from his trousers and a clubber, still dancing to the beat of his own drum, covered in ketchup.

Here in Dubai, they're calling the Metro operation 999, because apparently the first line will start moving on September 9, 2009; exactly when they said it would, when first they laid these 15.5 billion dirham plans. I'm still trying to get my head around it. What, no leaves on the line? No stray specks of sand, or tracks bent in the heat, or work-related misery induced suicide? Surely there must have been something holding them up?

Someone official, said: "We are right on schedule and have achieved a number of milestones ahead of time…

"People in Dubai will see the trains running on the test track on Sheikh Zayed Road by the end of April."

And it must be true - the trains are already arriving.

It's true that Dubai has more money at its disposal right now to make such dreams a reality, but it's still quite clear that London needs to pay attention. Of course, being such an ancient system, there are things they can't fix and modernise, but there's still no excuse for the abysmal work ethics seemingly behind this reconstruction. It definitely doesn't justify the the cost of a weekly travel card (almost Dhs160 for zones one and two).

Also interesting is the fact that even after all this "work", London's tube trains still don't even have air-con, or wireless Internet, or women-only carriages. (Quite often they have 'inebriated-only' carriages, but I'm pretty sure that's not intentional). Just what are these people doing down there all day, in dark and dingy tunnels, besides drinking tea and befriending rat colonies?

If Dubai can dig a tunnel under a creek and get 25,000 labourers working round the clock to cause as little disruption as possible, and still get it all done ahead of schedule, here's to hoping other major cities take inspiration from its plans.

Of course, they'll have to coax us ex-Londoners out of our houses once they open it and prove that it really is running. Jaded and tired of empty promises, most of us are left doubting that even a driverless, automated train can actually show up on time.

Posted: 19 March 2008

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