Doha, Qatar – Six years in the making, Qatar’s first-ever underground railway system has opened to the public, as the Gulf nation prepares to host the 2022 football World Cup.
The Doha Metro Red Line started partial operations on Wednesday, running along the coast from al-Qassar district in the capital, Doha, to the southern city of al-Wakrah.
Thirteen out of the 18 stations on the 40-kilometre Red Line route, connecting al-Wakrah to Lusail city in the north, are currently operational.
The country is aiming to run 75 trains, complete 37 stations and two more lines – Green and Gold – by the year 2020.
“This is one of the mega projects of Qatar and it’s not only a project that is opening, it is a new way for transportation all over the country,” Abdulla Al-Mawlawi, public relations and communications director at Qatar Rail, told Al Jazeera.
“It will welcome all the nationals, tourists and … expatriates who are living in Qatar,” he added.
Travelling at a speed of 80 to 100 kilometres per hour, the state-of-the-art driverless trains imported from Japan are divided into three compartments – standard class, family section and Gold Club.
Each train, seating 130 people, has a total occupancy of almost 416, Mawlawi said. The total travel time from al-Qassar to al-Wakrah is approximately 35 minutes.
There was an air of excitement at the metro stations in the capital on Wednesday morning as the city’s residents queued to purchase their tickets and ride the metro for the first time.
Franck Gellet, the French ambassador to Qatar, was among the first few passengers riding the train southwards to al-Wakrah.
A single journey in the standard compartment costs 2 riyals, while a ride in the Gold Club section costs 10 riyals.
“It’s an amazing moment to start this metro and to be one of the passengers to be in this train from the first day,” said Abdul Rahman Al Mahmoud, a 48-year-old Qatari national.
At the West Bay station, in Doha’s business district populated by its tallest skyscrapers, a crowd of eager commuters boarded the train heading to al-Wakrah.
Sandeep Kolli from India and his colleagues from the Japanese manufacturing company Mitsubishi, one of the major subcontractors of the Qatar Rail project, were among them.
“This opening is very special particularly for me because I’m the one who off-loaded all these trains right from Japan, so I know particularly each and every train,” the 35-year-old lifting engineer said.
“It’s a landmark for Qatar,” a beaming Kolli added.
Many said they would use public transport on a daily basis to avoid congestion on the roads and save money.
“Being able to have this metro, it will really transform the transportation system in and around Doha,” said Ric Daos, a civil engineer from the Philippines. “It’s especially beneficial for those who don’t have a car to go to work.”
Davina Bovell, a 72-year-old housewife from Scotland, who has been living in Qatar for five years, said she had been “looking forward to this day”.
“It’s something that’s been needed for a very long time and I think it will open up places like al-Wakrah and others where people wouldn’t normally go to.”
The city of al-Wakrah is the site of one of the eight football stadiums that will host the 2022 World Cup.
The 40,000-capacity al-Wakrah stadium, 15 kilometres south of the capital, will be inaugurated on May 16.
Construction for the Doha Metro started in 2013 and carried on amid a regional diplomatic crisis after neighbours Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, as well as Egypt, imposed a land, air and sea blockade on Qatar.
The second phase of construction, including an additional Blue line and 60 more stations, is expected to be completed by 2026.
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