DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Mideast commercial hub of Dubai opened its first tram line on Wednesday, enticing would-be riders with air-conditioned platforms and a premium section on its sleek cars for those willing to spend a few more dirhams.
The 10.6 kilometer (6.6 mile) street-level line aims to provide alternatives to driving along Dubai's rapidly developing southwestern coast, an area popular with expatriate professionals and ever-growing numbers of foreign tourists.
The line includes 11 stations linking the skyscraper-jammed Dubai Marina with office parks, hotels and residential areas further up the coastal road. Officials plan to extend the line to eventually include 17 stations.
The tram line opened to the public Wednesday morning following a fireworks-studded inauguration the previous evening. Like many Dubai projects, it debuted several years behind schedule.
Visitor Sultan Saeed Subhi from Oman decided to try out the tram on opening day. He said he was glad to find an affordable alternative to the city's ubiquitous taxis.
"It is really going to ease things for people going from one place to another," he said.
Dubai authorities are eager to promote public transport in this car-loving city, particularly as population numbers swell as the city recovers from its 2009 financial crisis and it gears up to host the World Expo in 2020. They hope to attract 27,000 a day for now, and some 66,000 by the end of the decade.
Tram commuters can connect to the Dubai Metro, a driverless elevated rail line that opened in 2009, as well as an existing monorail line that glides down the middle of the city's first man-made palm-shaped island, Palm Jumeirah.
Tram platforms are enclosed and air conditioned, with doors that slide open once a tram pulls in. Like the metro, each tram contains a special women-only section and a "gold class" compartment for those willing to pay double the base fare of 3 dirhams (82 cents).
Mattar al-Tayer, who heads the emirate's Roads and Transport Authority, said the project reflects Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum's desire to have a tramway "unprecedented worldwide in terms of safety and luxury in order to deliver classy services to residents and visitors."
The RTA did not say how much the first phase of the project cost, but it valued a 75-month operating contract granted to British firm Serco at 105 million dirhams ($28.6 million). A consortium including French engineering firm Alstom and Belgian construction company Besix built the line.
Associated Press writer Fay Abuelgasim contributed reporting.
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