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Middle East - Dubai's Rail Regulations

Middle East - Dubai's Rail Regulations
  • Middle East
  • Transport


Legal Director, Gurmeet Kaur, recently produced an article within the Tramways & Urban Transit Magazine which highlights key phases of the legislation regulating the rail sector in Dubai; pre-design phase, design phase and the operations.

There have been a number of significant developments in the transport sector in Dubai and UAE generally. The Dubai metro commenced operations in 2009 and has been a great achievement for Dubai, with ridership numbers increasing year on year.

With the increasing demand for public transport and the successful Dubai Expo 2020 bid, the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has announced further plans to expand the metro to the Expo site and is studying the feasibility of further expansions of the Red and Green lines. Abu Dhabi has also announced plans for a combined metro, tram and bus network; further details are expected later this year. The 2116km (1315-mile) Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) railway network is another significant development in the region.

In Dubai transport schemes have been or are being developed by other developers, such as the monorail system on the Palm Jumeirah by Nakheel, the peoplemover system by Dubai Airports, and most recently the heritage tram system by Emaar.

In the UAE, Dubai has been at the forefront of developing a rail-related regulatory framework. The RTA, as regulator, has the responsibility to regulate the design and planning of passenger transport in Dubai, including free zone areas, and has put in place a number of regulations. These regulations provide framework to guide planning and development of rail infrastructure and ensure safe and effective operation of railways systems.

The key legislation regulating the rail sector in Dubai is Regulation 5 of 2009 (as amended) on the regulation of railways in the Emirate of Dubai (Railway Regulation). This applies to the whole Emirate and sets out the planning and safety certification process for all rail infrastructure and operations. Other relevant instructions include Administrative Decision (68) of 2010 Issuing the Implementing By-law of Regulation (5) of 2009 Concerning Railways in the Emirate of Dubai (Administrative Decision), Dubai Executive Council Decision 1 of 2014 on the Regulation of Dubai Tramway (Tramway Regulation), and the Dubai Rail Planning and Design Guidelines (RPDG).

In addition there are regulations such as Dubai Municipality building regulations, which need to be complied with for building projects in Dubai and also requirements of utility providers such as Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), to the extent there are interfaces with service lines and utilities.

Regulation 5 contains a fairly broad definition of a railway, and covers most forms of light and heavy rail infrastructure, including the tram and monorail systems. Under the regulation the Rail Agency of the RTA has the responsibility for issuing permits for the development of rail infrastructure, provision of rail vehicles and other work in relation to development and maintenance  of railway systems. It is also responsible for issuing No Objection Certificates (NOC) for the construction, demolition and excavation of railway infrastructure.

The process for applying for the development permit and obtaining relevant NOCs are set out in more detail in the Administrative Decision and the Rail Planning and Design Guidelines (RPDG), and summarised below.

Pre-design phase

Under the RPDG, any developer of developments that feature a rail transport component is required to submit a Conceptual Master Plan and a development brief to the RTA as part of an application for the RTA NOC. This must clearly identify the potential requirement for rail transport. Once these have been reviewed and approved, the RTA will issue an in principle NOC to the developer.

The developer must then formulate the Urban Master Plan, confirm the requirement for public transport, undertake a feasibility study to confirm the rail transportation mode required, prepare a Traffic Impact Study (TIS) and finalise the Transportation Master Plan (TMP). Any cost-sharing arrangements and agreements relating to the proposed rail transport project, whether with the RTA or any other entity, should be finalised by the developer and accounted for prior to the completion of the feasibility study.

After confirming the feasibility of the proposed rail project, the developer produces a project brief and issues it to the RTA, along with the proposed development's TIS/TMP. This brief should describe the scope and extent of the proposed railway project and include the details required in the RPDG such as details of the project background, funding strategy, cost-sharing arrangements, station planning information, potential impacts of the project, projected power demands, etc.

Upon review of the developer's project brief, the RTA may request additional information or clarification, which the developer must address. Once the RTA is satisfied with the information, it will issue the development NOC.

Design Phase

Once the development NOC has been issued, the developer can appoint an RTA-prequalified designer to prepare the concept design. Under the RPDG, it is the developer's responsibility to ensure that any entity appointed to undertake rail project-related works (whether studies, design, construction, etc) are recognised by the RTA and are in possession of an RTA Prequalification NOC, and are licensed by Dubai Municipality. Failure to procure the services of RTA-prequalified rail service providers is illegal and will result in RTA's rejection of submitted deliverables or completed work.

The developer can also appoint an RTA-pre-qualified third party reviewer (IRB) to check and verify on behalf of the RTA that the appointed designer/contractor's work and deliverables are in compliance with the project brief and project information (as previously submitted to the RTA), the RTA's requirements for rail transport projects in the RPDG, and with the relevant local governing laws and regulations.

The scope of work and contract terms of the IRB shall be approved by the RTA to ensure that it is able to discharge its responsibilities, and the appointment of the IRB will be approved by the RTA to ensure that the organisation has the necessary skills and experience to perform the role.

The developer may also consider appointing an RTA-pre-qualified operator to oversee design development and ensure that designs are capable of meeting the specified operational requirements and service levels. The developer should develop all stages of the design in accordance with the RDPG and any additional input provided by the RTA.

Once the concept design is complete the developer then submits the same to the IRB for review. Once deemed compliant, the IRB formally instructs the developer to develop the preliminary design. The submission process described above is repeated for the preliminary and detailed design submissions; however, this time RTA approval will be required in order for the developer to proceed to the next stage. The IRB will then forward these submissions to the RTA.

The RTA applies fees for the review of the preliminary design and detailed design submissions. If deemed compliant by the IRB and if the RTA has no objections, the RTA will issue a preliminary design NOC to enable the developer to proceed with the detailed design stage. In cases where the IRB and/or RTA have comments on a submission that they deem as minor and that are easy for the developer's designer to address in a subsequent design approval submission, then an NOC with comments may be issued by the RTA.

If the project is to be delivered as a design-build project, the developer ensures that the appointed RTA-pre-qualified contractor procures the services of an RTA-pre-qualified designer as well. At the completion of the detailed design stage, the developer submits the final design deliverables for approval and applies for an RTA permit to commence construction - which is given upon approval of the detailed design.


The Railway Regulation includes a prohibition for operating rail infrastructure unless the owner obtains a Safety Certificate from the Safety Regulatory Authority (SRA), and the operator obtains an Operational Safety Certificate from the same. The administrative decision contains detailed requirements that will need to be satisfied in order to obtain the relevant certifications. The operator must design a safety management system in accordance with the criteria set out in Article 14. There are substantial fees to apply for the Safety Certificate and Operational Safety Certificate, and fines for violations: for example, under new amendments made in 2012, the fees for the issuance of the safety status certificate is a fixed fee of AED 2m (EURO 0.5m)

Subsequent legislation in Dubai such as the Tramway Regulation follows the approach adopted in the Railway Regulation. The Tramway Regulation is consolidating (by bringing together new and existing legal provision into a single location and providing for all subsidiary regulations and codes to be made under it) to deal with technical and other matters. The Tramway Regulations deals with the added complexity of interface with road users and provides for responsibilities of the owner, developer and operator. There are a number of fines imposed for pedestrians and road users who infringe the tramway right-of-way, and a number of public awareness campaigns and programmes have been organised by the RTA.

In summary, successful rail regulation will need to address all aspects of the operation itself, the infrastructure that supports it, and its interface with others in complex environments. The Dubai regulatory framework has provided a good system for regulating rail infrastructure and operations, but there are some areas where further clarity would be beneficial. For example, there are questions on whether all aspects of the RPDG are suitable for the different modes of railway transport, and for smaller projects. There is also no overarching safety regulation for non-rail transport in Dubai that would cover private operators; it may be useful to have general safety principles that are mandatory for all transport providers in Dubai.

Another aspect to consider further is the impact and interface with rail networks in the other Emirates and GCC networks, and to develop wide-reaching principles that govern safety and effective operations between the Emirates and wider GCC.