Wow! I never thought I’d get this excited about the launch of a train line, but, in all honesty, I’m beside myself. One of just 40 media representatives from across the globe invited to share a train with HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Prime Minister and Vice President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Ruler of Dubai.
I’ve just experienced history in the making.
It all starts, as no doubt it should in Dubai, in a mall. After canapés and soft drinks in a cordoned-off area of Mall of the Emirate’s beside Harvey Nics (while being studied by a rapidly growing crowd of shoppers), I’m ushered into a vast temporary auditorium.
Once Sheikh Mohammed has taken his seat (following a rendition of the UAE national anthem), the audience dons its complimentary 3D specs and watches a series of utterly fantastic films about the trainline’s construction. Evidently no expense has been spared, as the train ride we are about to experience is convincingly simulated on screen.
Next there’s a mad dash through the mall to the station, past hundreds of silent, but smiling, onlookers. The moment Sheikh Mohammed puts the No 1 ticket into the feeder, a flurry of party streamers explode and a fresh round of whoops break out. Finally – the large international, though predominantly Emirati crowd board the train.
The atmosphere couldn’t be more charged. With a turquoise and grey colour scheme and a soothing spa-style soundtrack, the inside of the train is strongly reminiscent of Hong Kong’s metro – spacious, sparkling and slick. As the train begins to move, cheers break out all down the carriages, as huge fireworks erupt outside.
The metro hurtles at top speed down Sheikh Zayed Road. I spot construction workers outside waving up at us, and wave right back. Before I know it (and because we didn’t stop at any other stations en route) we’ve arrived at Dubai International Financial Center and have five minutes to wander about, before being herded back onto the train to set off to the Khalid bin Al Waleed Station in Bur Dubai. Here things begin to get a bit manic: rather than listen to the planned ‘poetic verses’, the crowds instead follow Sheikh Mohammed about as he checks the finished pod out. Back onboard, a fresh round of fireworks light up the skies as we pull away, then zoom on to the biggest underground station in the world – Union Square.
All the time passengers of various nationalities chat, laugh and smile at each together – strangers to each other a few hours before, now sharing seats and an utterly unique experience. It feels like I’ve stepped into a living, breathing Dubai promo video. The city looks more impressive from this height – and this velocity. Already we’ve reached T3, where a giant mosaic of Sheikh Mohammed is unveiled by…Sheikh Mohammed. I pass him on the way back to the train. ‘How are you?’ he asks, a big grin on his face. He’s warm and friendly. Dubai’s leader is in a very good mood.
And it’s no surprise: despite some waiting around, and then sudden rushing about, Dubai’s much-hyped metro launch is going incredibly smoothly. As the train pulls into Rashidiya Station, our last stop, the mood is absolutely fantastic – even more upbeat than at the start of the journey.
Final fireworks blast off and Sheikh Mohammed places the last piece of Lego onto a metro model, before getting very nearly mobbed at a press conference. There may be a little pushing and shoving among the excitable crowd, but there are plenty of jokey comments and smiles shared too.
Once Sheikh Mohammed has chatted to the few that could reach him, he jumps into his white Range Rover and drives off (only since the metro isn’t doing a return journey tonight).
And me? Well, I’ve just seen Dubai in an utterly new light – one in which travel is cheap, quick and comfortable, and where it’s possible to interact with a large portion of Dubai’s population somewhere outside a mall. I’m feeling a bit shell-shocked.
That’s until, moments later, I’m told the taxis waiting outside (with their lights on) are ‘reserved’ and that I have to go hail our own on the neighbouring highway.
Bring on Dubai life with the metro – and fast.