This page is dedicated to the new breed of hi-tech buses currently being introduced into towns and cities as part of high-profile upgrades to existing bus services and as part of new "Bus Rapid Transit" (BRT) systems.
Experience in many towns and cities both in Europe and in North America has shown that steel-wheel on steel-rail railways (and especially light rail - modern trams and streetcars) are the most popular and successful of model choices for enticing motorists out of their cars; but not every conurbation is large enough to justify such systems, plus no matter the size of the city there will still be transport corridors where 'some improvement' over traditional buses is required but the traffic flow does not justify investing in (steel-wheeled) rail transport. In Europe as a whole there is reported to be over 150 cities that are too small to justify fully fledged steel-wheel tram systems but where some sort of higher capacity bus-based transport could be a viable alternative. If other cities elsewhere globally are included too then these new transports potentially could have a very large market for them.
Some of the transports seen on this page are capable of operating in both pseudo-tram self-steering mode as well as 'driver steered bus' modes. So as with the other types of guided bus (last two topics on the 'Side-Step Congestion' / Bus priority systems. page) they are able to provide through seamless services - without requiring a change of vehicle - operating in self-steering mode along busy corridors & in city centres and as driver-steered buses to serve the quieter traffic areas. Effectively this means that expensive infrastructure need only be built where it is most needed. Alternatively it is possible to introduce services first and then as required (or funds permit) install infrastructure later. So if a new housing or business estate is being developed it would be easy to reserve a segregated private right of way independent of the public highway (perhaps alongside a dedicated cycle and pedestrian route) and install it when traffic has built up. Until then the new service would use the public highway.
As with when the trolleybus (which in North America is also known as the trolleycoach, trackless trolley or ETB) was first introduced, the development of what effectively is a new mode of transport causes problems regarding generic names. Nowadays everyone knows roughly what trams / streetcars are, although in cities such as Karlsruhe - where the same vehicles can be found using the public highway, pedestrian zones and mainline rail tracks shared with InterCity & heavy freight trains - the distinction between them and trains can become somewhat blurred. Likewise, everyone understands the term bus, even though they too come in many shapes, sizes and colours! However, what is a rubber-tyred vehicle that looks somewhat like a bus, and a tram, and is able to behave like both modes too? Purists will say that without steel wheels it must be a bus, but since when could buses behave as if they were on rails - just like a tram?
The GLT (Guided Light Transport / Transit) was the first system to feature purpose built vehicles designed around the theme of merging the well proven popularity of the tram with the 'go anywhere' capability of the motorbus. Indeed its promoters - Bombardier - often promote it as 'A Tramway on Tyres'.
In 'pseudo-tram' (guided bus) mode tractive effort is via the rubber tyres, with guidance coming from double-flanged rollers which follow a central rail located flush in the roadway. This allows for sharing roadspace with the other traffic or operating along a traffic-free town centre with pedestrians. (Theoretically the single rail makes the GLT a part-time monorail)! Other guided mode possibilities include multiple-unit operation, electric collection via a pantograph (return is via the guide rail), elevated / underground tunnel operation and because the 'rear' end can be fitted with tram-type driving controls - full reversibility.
In bus mode the GLT will behave like any other road vehicle, driven from the front and able to roam freely as required. An onboard fossil fuel engine powers the electric drive system, although 100% electric two-wire trolleybus operation is also a design possibility.
With the GLT it is possible is for several suburban routes to meet at a station located on the edge of a city centre with the vehicles coupling up (the design criteria is for up to three units at a time) to provide a higher capacity service (up to 20,000 passengers/hour) where traffic is such that single units cannot cope. When operating in this way the GLT will be able to emulate the cost effective advantages also enjoyed by conventional rail systems for one member of staff to operate trains carrying several hundreds of passengers at a time.
A Brief History.
The GLT idea goes back to 1985, when a pre-developmental prototype was used on a short demonstration track at the UITP exhibition in the Heysal area of Brussels see picture below, left. In 1988 three more vehicles were built to further evaluate the technologies involved. One of these vehicles was single articulated and used on the Brussels tram system to test the new bogies for the Tram 2000 project that was then under development. Being out of gauge it only operated out of traffic hours, when the system had otherwise shut down. The fate of this vehicle is unknown. (See picture below, left). The other two vehicles are double articulated, and are used on the specially built test track which is a converted railway branch line (closed 1980, re-opened for GLT 1988) located between Jemelle and Rochefort, in the Belgian Ardennes. For a few years these vehicles operated a (summer only) public service, running from outside Jemelle railway station to the popular tourist village of Han-Sur-Lesse, travelling via Rochefort where they changed to bus mode for the second part of their journey. Han-Sur-Lesse is already well known to transport enthusiasts because of its unusual diesel trams (see picture on the Trams & Streetcars page) which take passengers to some tourist orientated caves, from which after a 3km guided tour the visitors exit by battery powered boat.
About The Vehicles.
The GLT vehicles follow a railway based philosophy by using a steel chassis built to withstand 30-tonne end loadings, although to fit all the necessary components means that the underframes layout is more akin to a bus chassis. The bodywork uses the Alusuisse system of aluminium construction. All together the structure is designed for a 30 year life, although in one of their promotional leaflets Bombardier suggest that with a 15 year 'half life' refit (new front, external aspect, interior arrangement, etc.,) it would be possible to obtain many of the visual benefits that will make passengers feel as if they were travelling on a completely new vehicle - without the high expense. The principle of half-life refits is well proven in the public transport industry.
For motive power the GLT uses a trolleybus type electric traction system. The two double articulated prototypes are each equipped with two 600v dc 175kw (approximately 240bhp) electric motors (axles 2 and 4 are driven) and one rear mounted 260kw (approximately 350 bhp) 9 litre two-stroke Detroit diesel engine. Driving controls have been fitted only at the front - for reversibility a closed-circuit television system links the front and rear cabs and the vehicles feature a full range of head / tail lights and direction indicators at each end. Maximum speed is 70 km/h, acceleration is 1.2m/s, deceleration 5.5m/s (all axles have ABS and ASR anti - skid systems) gradient is 1 in 7 and because all axles are steered the minimum curve radius is a tight 12 metres. On curves the middle and rear axles always follow the same track as the front axle - this means that if a road was painted white and the GLT made a 'U' turn there would be just one set of tyre tracks visible. It also means that on 'ordinary' road surfaces the GLT will suffer from 'rutting' of the road surface - a common problem with bus lanes - caused by the vehicles' rubber tyres only using the same narrow strips of roadway. This applies to both guided and unguided modes.
These vehicles are 24.5m long, 3.3m high, 2.5m wide and weigh 26,000kg empty. Total capacity ranges from 175 (@ 4 people per sqmetre) to 200 (@ 6 people per sqmetre). Seating capacity also varies, with promotional literature quoting figures between 51 and 75. Being prototypes the purpose of these vehicles is to assist development of the technology, and promote the system, so passenger accommodation is not an issue of vital importance. Being a modular system vehicle configurations are variable. In addition to the triple-unit / double articulated vehicle described above other possibilities are 17m twin-unit / single articulated and 42m quad-unit / triple articulated versions. Even longer versions are technically possible, the principle constraining factor being that many countries have different laws relating to maximum permitted lengths of road vehicles, so is very probable that for most European installations only the shorter two sizes would actually be built.
How It Operates.
Under each axle are two double flanged rollers which lock onto a central guidance rail using patented technology. To become guided these rollers are lowered while the vehicle is driven slowly forward over two short lengths of rail (standing slightly proud of the road surface) which form a 'V' shape to steer the guidance rollers into place. This process takes a little less than a minute. Becoming unguided can take place anywhere as required whether the vehicle is stationary or in motion. This means that if the GLT is sharing the road with other traffic and there is an obstruction - for instance roadworks or a traffic accident - then the service can continue with minimal delay.
The special profile guidance rail is built in the centre of a 55cm deep reinforced concrete lane and rests on an elastic footing. For straight track a single lane will require to be 308cm wide, on curves this widens to a maximum of 370 cms.
New Vehicle, New Name.
The previous GLT vehicles were of an obsolete high-floor design which required passengers to board / alight via steps. By 1997 there was a new 24.5m low-floor easy access version, which is seen here on the Belgian test track (last pictures in the panel on the left). The new vehicles have been renamed as 'TVR', which means Transport sur voie reservée - transport on reserved track. It seems that the rename was to appease the French who were planning to test it in Paris, and their envy of the global supremacy of the English Language. The GLT's designers would have chosen to market it in English because it is an acceptable common language in Belgium which is a bilingual nation where the two linguistic factions - French and Flemish - are constantly at loggerheads. English also has an international marketability that surpasses all other languages, therefore it would have been seen as an ideal marketing tool for a global audience.
Some more detailed information about the new TVR vehicles. Length 24,5 m; Width 2,50 m; Height 3,22 m; Seated passengers 41; Total capacity 154 (@ 4 people per square metre); Weight 25,5 tonnes; electric motors (by GEC ALSTHOM) 300 kW; diesel engine 200 kW; guidance from all four axles; all wheels steerable; max speed 70km/h (about 45 mph); max incline 13%; min curve radius 12 m; designed for a 30 year life; lane width required when travelling straight 3 m; and on curves 3,42 m.
As part of the development of the TVR the low floor prototype was 'endurance tested' in Paris, the French capital, on a 1.5km section of the Trans Val-de-Marne busway. Part of the route involved electric / guided operation and part fossil fuel / non guided operation. In Paris the RATP is reportedly looking at the TVR for quieter routes in the outer suburbs - to complement its current expansion schemes for the suburban rail, metro and tramway systems. These trials were supposed to last just six months but actually continued for much longer, it seems that there was a problem with severe vibrations whilst operating in guided mode caused by the interaction between the guide wheels and guide rail. Some pundits (rather unkindly) suggested that the vibration issue was so severe that the TVR vehicles could quite literally 'shake themselves to pieces ' long before their design life of 30 years has been reached (Paris not illustrated.)
End Of Trials - Into Commercial Service.
Back in 1997 the French city of Caen was planning to be the first to install a commercial TVR system, but it was rejected in a local referendum where, with less than a quarter of eligible voters turning out, in reality 'apathy' could be said to have been the real winner.
Instead the first commercial TVR installation was in the French city of Nancy, where it was seen to be a logical upgrade to their pre-existing trolleybus system. Another reason for choosing a rubber tyred solution was the better ability of buses to cope with steeper gradients, which on Line 1 in Nancy were as steep as 13%. With the overhead infrastructure already in situ TVR services were expected to commence towards the end of 2000 but testing took longer than originally expected so public services actually began on 11th February 2001. This is over an 11.5km route which features 29 stops.
Unfortunately not only was the commencement of services late but there were two accidents within the first month of operation (on 6th & 10th March) which occurred whilst vehicles were changing from guided to unguided mode. Both accidents involved the rear of the vehicles swinging out and sideswiping nearby overhead-wire masts. These were followed by a strike by transport workers questioning whether the technology was safe and as a result all services were suspended for a year whilst investigations and modifications were carried out. That there should be not one but two accidents so soon after the start of services is somewhat surprising because the although the TVR is a new technology it had been thought to have been thoroughly proven safe in many hours of developmental testing at its Belgian test track and during its Parisian demonstration trials. Services were restarted on the 6th March 2002. To help reassure both staff and passengers that the technology is safe all 25 vehicles have been fitted with aircraft-style black boxes which record data such as the vehicles speed, acceleration and braking during the 5 minutes prior to any further incidents (should they happen).
Meanwhile, despite the negative vote and problems in Nancy after a 14 year planning saga Caen's TVR service finally opened on 15th November 2002. In Caen the TVR remains in guided mode at all times (during passenger service) and the vehicles are powered via a single overhead wire and a pantograph (as is usual with trams) with electrical return being via the guide rail. Caen's system features 24 vehicles operating over a 15.7km route with 34 stations; it is marketed under the name of "Twisto".
As of Spring 2006 it seems that the derailing issue has been resolved, and according to the Nancy transport authorities everything is now operating at "design speeds". The derailments were blamed on the vehicle drivers holding (or resting) on the steering wheel, which had the effect of raising the guide wheel slightly. So a combination of staff retraining, some changes to the guidance system (see below) and engineers changing the linkage between the steering wheel and the guide wheel seems to have solved the problem.
To further help ensure that there are no more derailments and that the system remains safe the guidance wheels must now exert a minimal pressure of 750 kgs upon the guidance rail. Unfortunately this high downward pressure creates several problems, including an increase in noise levels, especially at higher speeds and increased abrasion (wear) of the guidance wheel and guidance rail. Furthermore, this effectively reduces the weight borne by the traction wheels, which results in the vehicles sometimes having difficulty climbing gradients when the road is wet and / or slippery from fallen leaves, snow and ice. In this case they must switch to unguided mode, which in Caen means using the diesel engine too, and drive slowly & extra carefully to avoid things such as the overhead wire support poles.
Other issues which the TVR has experienced include exploding tyres and that because the wheels follow exactly the same path abnormal wear and tear is resulting in tracks or "rutting" forming in the road surface. At some locations this has resulted in a need for the laying of asphalt to fill the grooves, something which can be done overnight during non-traffic hours. It is very likely that in the longer term short service suspensions will be required for more drastic road surface repairs / renewal.
Some pundits are suggesting that repairing the grooves and replacing worn guidance rails in the worst affected locations will need doing annually, and that in the long term a steel wheel tramway (or kerb guided trolleybusway) would have been cheaper.
Experience in Service.
Some of the information below comes from French language Internet discussion sites with people who live in the relevant cities discussing their transports, and possible future plans.
Whilst the vehicles seem nice enough the many problems have negatively impacted on what it was hoped to be able to achieve. In 2001 when Nancy's system first opened the total end to end journey time was 29 minutes but because of speed reductions imposed to improve safety whilst in guided mode it became 36 minutes. At one stage the speed reductions were as low as 30km/h (20 mph) on straight track and 10km/h on (some) curves, but later this was raised to 40km/h (25 mph). A comparison of journey times with ordinary buses has also proven unfavourable - for instance sections of road which ordinary buses can cover in 7 minutes the TVR needs 9 minutes. The information source for the comparison did not state whether the TVR was operating in guided mode - it is assumed that it was - because from personal experience in 2003 it was found that when in normal driver steered mode the TVR was able to be driven without constraint, much like any ordinary trolleybus.
Because of the relatively small quantity of work to be carried out the Nancy system was expected to be much cheaper than a steel-wheel tramway. Officially its final cost is quoted as being €156 million which works out at about €14.2 million per km. As a comparison a new steel wheel tramline in the French city of Orléans worked out at €15,5 million per km. It is reported that in a final settlement for the problems Bombardier refunded €7.6 million of the total €47.3 million cost of the TVR vehicles.
In October 2006 it was reported that Line 1 (the TVR route) carries about 40,000 passengers daily - out of a total of 100,000 daily journeys in Nancy. The original projections were for a daily ridership of 54,000. The average speed of 14.6km/h is lower than other buses services in the city, as well as a traditional steel wheel tramways elsewhere in France.
In Caen as a general theme they were reasonably satisfied with their "tram on tyres". Perhaps one gripe which could be levied is that whilst the earlier GLT prototypes were designed to be capable of multiple-unit operation this feature was dropped from the low floor versions - and because of overcrowding at busy times this is something that they would have liked to have been able to do.
Caen thought that steel-wheel trams would be too expensive for an average city and instead took a risk in going with innovative new technology. In that way they quite literally became a city-wide test track. It could be said that they paid a financial price for that innovation, with a transport system which had been estimated to cost €113 million ending up costing more like €234 million.
The Future - Nancy.
Nancy originally planned a three-route 28km TVR network, which was expected to have been completed by 2007. Line 2 was actually originally planned to open in 2001 but it did not happen and the 7 vehicles bought for it ended up being used on Line 1. What had been proposed as Line 3 was renamed Line 2 and at one stage it was suggested that construction would start in 2007 with it opening by 2011. However this did not come to pass. Nancy also had problems with a fleet of new trolleybuses for other services which in the end were returned to the manufacturer never having actually been used in public service. Line 3 is still on the horizon - also as some sort of BRT, and pencilled in for 2015...
In October 2006 revamped plans also talked of improvements and extensions for Line 1, although these were more aspirational as no hard facts are known - other than that the TVR is no longer in production. Also being considered was the possibility of using 'tram-train' technology which would copy Karlsruhe, Kassel, and others where local heavy rail services would be converted to light rail (with the tracks still available for other heavy rail trains) and extended as steel wheel trams through city streets. If this does happen then there is a possibility of some locations (eg: near the railway station) featuring the twin rails of steel-wheel trams and the single rail of the TVR along the same formation!
This will probably sound very unprofessional, but it does seem that with all the bad luck that Nancy seems to have suffered that something out of the ordinary is going on here. The idea of an entire cities' transports being jinxed sounds ridiculous, yet that is the very impression which has been gained.
In early 2010 the talk was that a decision would be made by 2013, with (it hoped) that something would be installed by 2015. That is, if the 2014 elections did not result in plans changing yet again. It seems that converting the TVR route to steel wheel trams is not seen as being viable, so some sort of articulated trolleybus (possibly optically guided - described below) or a Translohr system (also described below) are being looked at as possibilities - with the same technology installed on Line 3. Apparently despite all the woes passenger numbers using the TVR are such that there is a concern whether single articulated trolleybuses would be able to cope with passenger numbers, so double articulated trolleybuses have been mooted. In the meantime, Line 2 will 'probably' use optically guided trolleybuses (but might use the same vehicle technology as Lines 1 and 3) whilst the tram-train will become Line 4. But... its all talk and until decisions are made, contracts with vehicle suppliers signed and physical works begin, so it seems that just about anything could yet come to pass.
In summer 2013 it was announced that later in the year the TVR vehicles would benefit from a €7 million "refresh" deigned to improve indoor comfort. Expected to be completed in 2015 the works will include replacing the seating, installing new LED-based lighting, action to reduce internal noise, external renovation of the vehicles and the creation of a new passenger information system.
The Future - Caen.
In late 2004 Caen announced its proposals for what it wanted to achieve by 2015, and this included using TVR vehicles to extend the existing 15.7km TVR Line 1 by another 6.9km. The big question for them however was the issue of vehicles, as apparently by then Bombardier had discontinued the TVR from its product range. Some online discussion included the thought that as Nancy has been less than delighted with the TVR and might even harbour thoughts of wanting to be rid of it and its problems so that maybe Caen would be happy to have Nancy's vehicles and after conversion to pantograph operation use them to enhance its Line 1 - plus have a few extra to use as a source of spare parts.
Caen's 2015 proposals also included Lines 2, 3, and 4. Ideally Caen would have liked the 11.3 km Line 2 to use the TVR, to complement Line 1. This would have been desirable from many viewpoints including maintenance and fleet management, however as new vehicles were no longer in production so the alternative options looked at included the Translohr (described below) or a trolleybus based system using the Optical guidance system (also described below). The 6km Line 3 and the 5km Line 4 will almost certainly be BRT services, possibly also using trolleybuses and / or Optical guidance.
In January 2008 reports spoke of an ever increasing urgency to resolve the situation in Caen, both because of a desire to increase capacity of existing services by using longer (or multiple-unit) vehicles and because the existing services were operating at full capacity (especially in the rush hours) and without more vehicles the much needed service frequency enhancements was simply not possible. Reports also suggested that Bombardier might have been prepared to build more TVR vehicles, although they would want a minimum build quantity of 20.
Meanwhile on Wednesday 27th May 2009 there was another derailment - the first for many years.
A Decision is Made.
In December 2011 Caen made a final decision as to how to resolve the situation regarding TVR Line 1. This was to temporarily close it (in 2017) and after an estimated 18 month conversion process reopen it in December 2018 as a traditional steel wheel tramway. This way they will free themselves from being restricted to just one product manufacturer and be able to select rolling stock from the wide range of tram builders. The estimated cost of this tramway conversion is €170 million, which compares favourably to the estimated €214 million it would have cost to upgrade the TVR. Some local politicians from opposition parties are reported to have described the TVR as a technical catastrophe. As an aside, the quoted cost of the conversion reflects the fact that there should not be a need to move subterranean utilities and that much of the infrastructure will be re-used... power supply system, transformers, stations, etc. So it is considerably lower than the cost of a brand new tramway.
The conversion project will also include the construction of tramway line 2, for which building works will begin in 2015, with both the new and the rebuilt lines opening simultaneously. The new trams will be built as part of a shared order with the French city of Amiens; cities pooling their fleet purchases in this way is not unknown - it is done to because the tram manufacturers are then able to reduce the unit price of each tram.
Overnight 1st / 2nd July 2012 an electric motor fell off a TVR vehicle.
By spring 2013 Caen's TVR had experienced 22 derailments since its opening in 2002. Five of these were since 2008, with three (21st February, 19th March and 11th May) having been in 2013. The March derailment occurred when a TVR vehicle encountered something that had fallen off the vehicle in front! The May derailment occurred at a terminus turning circle as was said to most likely have been caused by premature wear of the rail and issues related to guide rollers plus shortages of spare parts. Each TVR vehicle has eight guide rollers (two each fore and aft of the wheel units), the entire fleet has 192 of them, and for an unstated reason they all needed changing - but the maintenance team did not have enough in stock and were waiting for more to come from Bombardier. The source of this information did not state when it was known that the parts were needed, why, how long they take to arrive after ordering, etc.
A blog written by a TVR vehicle driver speaks of a concern about the safety of these vehicles and includes the following two quotations which have been translated from the original French language to English using Google Translate.
The material is considerably degraded because it is not suited to the terrain. There are so many concerns that preventive maintenance visits can not be lack of time. I hope there will be no disaster, but if the tram leaves the rails down the university, close to bars, I can not even imagine.
But it is often during the day as it deteriorates. We often hear noises ...Another time, a controller saw a fallen next to him bolt ...We had skirts, brake pedals, the screw and now a sensor rail. Most disturbing is that alarm to sound when you lose, and then, nothing .
The comment about preventative maintenance probably means that the driver fears that this is not carried out soon enough after an issue arises; the comment about the alarm sounding possibly refers to when there is a derailment. The blog can
be reached at this link, which will open in a new window
|The Caen and Nancy vehicles are essentially the same, except for livery, internal furnishing colours and power collection methods.
Caen left uses blue based furnishings and a railway-style pantograph, with electrical return being via the guide rail.
Nancy right uses red based furnishings and trolleybus-style twin trolleypoles.
|In guided mode the vehicles operate as regular trams (streetcars) and call at stations with fixed platforms.
In Caen left they remain in guided mode at all times whilst in passenger service, although for non-revenue journey to, from and within the depôt they operate as driver-steered diesel-electric buses.
In Nancy right only part of the system sees guided operation....
|... the rest of the time they operate as normal trolleybuses (electric trolleycoach / trackless trolley in American) sharing roadspace with other road users and calling at normal bus stops.||'Track' view at one of two locations in Caen where services in guided mode split into two routes.|
|At the time of this visit Montant-Octroi was one of several locations in Nancy where vehicles swap between guided and unguided mode. Subsequent works has seen the guided section extended.||Internal view of a Caen vehicle from the back looking forwards.|
|At the back the vehicles feature this 'U'-shaped seating area.
(Nancy version illustrated)
|Internal view of a Nancy vehicle from the front looking backwards.|
Videos of the GLT in Belgium and TVR in both Caen and Nancy have been placed on the 'youtube' film sharing site and can be watched (in new windows) by clicking the links below,
from where links to further videos can also be found. Each film also includes very brief scenes showing the other two systems.
Civis, Cristalis, Optical Guidance.
Note that by 2011 the Civis and Cristalis buses had been withdrawn from the bus manufacturers' product range, being replaced with more conventional vehicles - some of which follow the same innovative BRT design theme and include the use of optical guidance as an optional extra.
Intended for medium sized towns and the suburbs of larger cities the Civis concept was originally for a complete transport package including vehicles, guidance system and street furniture. When launched it was marketed as a Reserved Lane Light Urban Transport System and designed to be suitable for traffic flows of up to 3,000 passengers per hour / per direction.
The Civis was originally developed by Renault and Matra, two well established French transport concerns. Since then Matra was bought out by Siemens and Renault's bus and coach division merged with the Fiat-Iveco group's bus and coach division whilst its truck division became part of Volvo, who also gained a stake in the bus and coach division as well. However the euro-bureaucrats cried foul claiming that the latter was anti-competitive (as if there are no other bus builders anywhere globally!!!) and demanded a change in ownership, so since early 2003 Irisbus has been fully owned by the Iveco Group. The traction equipment was sourced from Alsthom. (It is to be regretted that there is no-one with similar powers to cry foul over the euro-bureaucrats not being elected to office, not being democratically accountable, or that because oodles of [British & European] [our] taxpayers' money goes astray within the EU it is many years since auditors have been prepared to 'sign-off' the EU's accounts). In 2013 the Irisbus brand name was dropped, with the name Iveco Bus being used instead.
|A rigid Cristalis in Limoges, France.
Image & license: Momox de Morteau / Wikipedia encyclopædia.
CC BY-SA 3.0 commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trolleybus_Cristalis_ligne_4.JPG.
|An articulated Cristalis on one of the high profile
Trolleybus Rapid Transit routes in Lyon.
Image & license: Ibou69100 / Wikipedia encyclopædia CC BY-SA 3.0
About The Vehicles.
The vehicles came in two variants which shared essentially the same bodywork and drive systems. The Civis was aimed at the "rubber-tyred tram / streetcar" market and the vehicles feature a pointed front where the driver sits centrally in a railway-style cab. This adds a little to the overall length and is only suitable for 'off-vehicle' fare collection systems which do not need to be supervised by the driver. Orginally it was expected that vehicles which use this configuration would also always use the optical self-steering guidance system, although this is not how things eventually came to pass. The other basic body variant features a more conventional bus-style flat front making these vehicles more akin to state-of-the-art 'second generation' modern buses. These are generally known as Cristalis.
For length there were several options including a 12 metre rigid and a 18.50 metre (Cristalis) / 18.75 metre (Civis) single-articulated. Initally a 24 metre double-articulated Civis was also included in the original design specifications but none of these are known to have ever actually been built. All variants are 2.55 metres wide, this being the euro-standard maximum width for buses.
Production was mostly based at Rorthais in the centre-west of France, near to Nantes, although the chassis was treated with a full anti-corrosion immersion process (cataphoresis) at the main Irisbus bus plant at Annonay. The structure was fabricated out of stainless steel. Partly because the integral low floor architecture required that most ancillaries be located at roof level the main side framing was very substantial, so as to support the weight. Construction followed an innovative production system whereby the two main sides, front & rear ends plus roof were all constructed as separate sub-assemblies, complete with glazing, wiring and trim, and then, late in the production process, bolted to the chassis and to each other, to make a very strong structure. One of the features carried over from the conventional bus range was the use of main side panels made in a fibreglass material which are both visually attractive and easier to repair in the event of minor bumps and scrapes.
The vehicles are electrically operated, either as trolleybuses which collect 750v dc power from twin overhead wires via poles mounted on the vehicle's roof, or as diesel-electric hybrid style buses where a rear mounted 224kW / 300 HP Iveco Euro 3 fossil engine powers an electric generator (alternator). Note that unlike other types of hybrid bus propulsion systems the diesel-electric variant does not include energy regeneration or storage, and although well proven on the railways it has proven to be something of an Achilles Heel when used on buses. The trolleybus variants could also fitted with a low power 66kW / 88 HP diesel alternator APU (auxiliary power unit) which gives them an ability to travel off-wire at reduced speed - many trolleybuses feature an APU as it is useful for emergency (and depôt) use allowing the vehicle to travel away from the power supply around an obstruction (eg: a road traffic accident).
Transmission is via 80kw electric wheelhub motors driving the centre (articulated variants only) and rear wheels which feature the extra-wide low profile Michelin 'Super-Single' tyres obviating the need for paired wheels. These state-of-the-art tyres were designed to limit ground floor pressure, save 130kg per axle in weight, reduce rolling resistance (and hence energy consumption) and enable the vehicles' interior to be as wide at the back as at the front. This saves about 40cm in internal width.
The main entrance doors are electrically operated. The twinleaf doors open outward and sit very close to the side of the body. When using guidance systems the buses can dock so close to raised compatible kerbs that there is practically no gap. However, for non-guided vehicles there are the usual options of kneeling suspension and ramps. With accurate docking the bus stop platform can be raised up to 27 cm (or 21 cm when the vehicle is kneeled), to provide accessibility to every user.
|Cristalis trolleybus in Milan, Italy, on a priority road which is restricted to public transport, bikers and the emergency services. The leaf motifs represent a type of tree which grows along many of the tree-lined avenues served by these trolleybuses on routes 90/91. The building in the background is the central railway station; the vehicles behind the bus are taxis which had to stop whilst the bus called at a bus stop.||Inside a Cristalis; the skylights are a feature of both vehicle ranges.
Image: the vehicle manufacturers' publicity material.
|Rear view of a rigid Cristalis in Lyon, France. The rear window is a very welcome feature which too often bus designers omit.||Side three-quarter view of an articulated Cristalis on the very busy route No.1 in Lyon, France|
The Optical Guidance System.
Initially the optical 'self-steering' guidance system was called 'Visée', but when Matra (who developed it) was bought out by Siemens they rebranded the technology as 'Optiguide'.
When first introduced 'Visée' was claimed to be the first technology to use Artificial Vision in passenger transport. It works by a forward looking video camera detecting the correct path by 'seeing' the contrast between a 'virtual rail' comprising of twin white dashed lines and the darker road surface on which they are painted (typically normal white traffic paint is used), with the image being analysed by a computer to determine the vehicle's position relative to its expected path and then adjusting the steering as required. There are two options for the virtual rail, with this being located either down the centre of the vehicle or offset to the left. Originally developed to enable accurate docking at bus stops, it was soon also thought to be equally competent for full-time vehicle guidance, albeit at speeds of up to 40 km/h (about 25mph), although there were visibility issues when autumnal leaves, fog and snow reduced the readability of the lines painted on the road surface. When used solely for bus stop docking the 'virtual rail' usually extends 50 metres in each direction before and after the bus stop. The design criteria is for a horizontal gap of 6cm (a little under 2½") between the bus and bus stop platform.
Although perhaps solely intended for 'rubber tyred' tram-like vehicles optical guidance can be fitted to other types of bus as well - initially most trials used otherwise 'standard' Renault (Irisbus) Agora diesel buses and nowadays some of the other bus designs within the Irisbus family use it too (see below).
On the Irisbus stand at the 1999 UITP exhibition in Toronto a short promotional film showed a Renault (Irisbus) Agora bus fitted with optical guidance undergoing trials. Scenes included safe operation in a wide variety of climatic conditions including torrential rain and fog (but not snow), and how easily the driver can safely regain steering control to take emergency action to avoid a potential collision / accident. Interestingly, the film also showed a Civis prototype equipped with O-Bahn / kerb guided bus style guide-wheels while a computer simulation demonstrated it on a mixed mode journey combining both guidance systems.
The presence of the raised kerbs would be to help meet safety concerns regarding situations where (for instance) the guidance lines become invisible to the camera - such as in wintry weather conditions - and on slippery roads when safety dictates that all rubber-tyred traffic have to slow down. Originally the raised kerbs and physical guidewheels were stated to only be needed in case the optical guidance system derailed (with there not being any physical contact at other times) but at least one system promoter suggested using the physical system instead (although many years later this has not come to pass).
|A flat (conventional bus) fronted Cristalis bus
on the TEOR route in Rouen.
Image: the manufacturers' publicity material.
|"Hands free" driving.
Image: the manufacturers' publicity material.
|Agora L on Rouen TEOR line T1 at the "Mont aux Malades" terminus at Mont-Saint-Aignan. Agora buses locate their camera systems at the base of the windscreen just inside the bus.
Image & license: Magnum-76 / Wikipedia encyclopædia: CC-BY-1.0
|Citelis 18 on Rouen TEOR line at the "Bizet" terminus at Canteleu. Citelis buses locate their camera systems in a visually distinctive way in a roof mounted pod at the front of the bus.
Image & license: Travail personnel / Wikipedia encyclopædia:
CC BY-SA 3.0 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:28-07-08_6108_T3.JPG.
In To Service.
The French cities of Clermont-Ferrand and Rouen were the first to use Civis buses, with both opting to first trial some diesel-electric articulated variants.
Clermont-Ferrand chose to trial Civis buses with the tram style central driving position. These were used alongside specially branded optically guided Agora L articulated buses on route No. 14, which used the marketing name of Léo 2000. Perhaps noteworthy is the reasoning behind choosing a rubber-tyred system in Clermont-Ferrand - being the home city of Michelin tyres local prestige demanded a rubber tyred (and not steel wheel) local transport solution.
Rouen chose to trial Cristalis buses with the flat front where the driver sits to one side. These were used on the BRT system known as TEOR (Transport est-ouest rouennais / Transport east-west Rouen) which partially opened in 2000. Services had began using a fleet of 38 Irisbus Agora buses but the plan was that eventually these would be replaced by a production fleet of 55 Cristalis buses. Initially just two prototypes were delivered with the first of these commencing public services at 4.30pm on 7th February 2002.
However having trialed their diesel-electric Civis / Cristalis buses for several years both cities decided against introducing production versions in to their fleets.
Clermont-Ferrand decided pretty quickly that once the leasing period was over it would neither be purchasing the six Civis buses which had already been delivered nor would it be proceeding with purchasing a fleet of Civis buses, citing that this change of plan was for financial reasons. Apparently their trials found that when compared to the diesel mechanical Agora L buses the diesel-electric Civis consumes 30% to 35% more fuel plus the Agoras are only half as expensive to purchase. According to media reports Irisbus suggest that the higher fuel consumption is because of the lack of dedicated busway / bus right of way - such as in Rouen. With roadworks for the Translohr rubber-tyred tram (see below) disrupting traffic flows it was also decided to discontinue the use of the optical guidance, with stated reasons including the frequent need to repaint the road markings for the cameras to follow. Longer term plans in Clermont-Ferrand include converting route 14 / Léo 2000 to become Translohr Tram route B, and whilst financial issues may delay this for a while it has already been rebadged as route B.
By way of a contrast Rouen initially confirmed its order for 57 of the high-tech Cristalis buses (including the two pre-series buses) for its TEOR BRT system which when completed had expanded from 12km to 25.5km and from 16 to 41 stations using a total of 66 optically guided buses, of various types.
However Rouen changed its plans when Irisbus replaced their Agora bus range with the Citelis, which were also based on 'normal' and not 'rubber-tyred tram' bus aesthetics and included the optional fitting of Optiguide optical guidance as a design feature. Rouen opted to return the two pre-series Cristalis prototypes and purchase optically guided Citelis buses. So by February 2007 their TEOR BRT system was served by 38 Agora L buses and 28 Citelis L buses (making 66 in total) - all with optical guidance.
In 2006 Irisbus launched a new BRT bus named Créalis which is based on the Citelis chassis and as with the Cristalis / Civis includes the option of a flat or 'more rounded' front. The latter is called Créalis Neo. For these buses too the optional fitting of Optiguide optical guidance is a design feature. The first line of a planned BRT system using optically guided Créalis Neo buses opened in the French city of Nîmes in 2012. The optical guidance is used for accurate docking at bus stops - of which there are 9 along the almost 7km route. Unguided Créalis buses are also used on a BRT system in the French city of Maubege, as well as on 'ordinary' bus services elsewhere in France.
|Créalis Neo on the T Zen Line 1 BRT service in Essonne,
which is a French département to the south of Paris.
Image & license: Poudou99 / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
|Créalis Neo bus in Nîmes.
Image & license: Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public domain.
Image & license: Ibou69100 / Wikipedia encyclopædia: CC BY-SA 3.0
Image & license: Ibou69100 / Wikipedia encyclopædia: CC BY-SA 3.0
External and internal views of a flat fronted Créalis with Optiguide pod on its roof.
Meanwhile, whilst the diesel-electric Civis / Cristalis buses did not found favour, the electric trolleybus versions proved to be somewhat more successful.
Over a period of several years Lyon, France, has upgraded its trolleybus fleet with over 100 Cristalis trolleybuses. Since late 2006 some of these have been used on the first of several TBRT routes. The urban transport authority sees the Cristalis brand of buses as providing an upgrade to ‘ordinary‘ buses - of whatever traction package - and therefore being ideal for routes which need investment but do not justify trams. Lyon is an excellent example of how the different transport modes can all find a place in a large city - in December 2000 it opened two brand new tram routes totalling 41km in length to complement its pre-existing network of trolleybuses (including some brand new ‘midi‘ trolleybuses for route 6 which uses roads unsuitable for full size vehicles), motorbuses, four métro lines and several funiculars. (In total the Métro is 25km in length and the trolleybuses 54km). Even without these planned new investments Lyon already has transport systems that are way, way in advance of just about every British city except London. Furthermore, the combination of these transport means that 70% of Lyon's public transports being electrically operated, helping reduce air pollution and improve the quality of the urban environment.
Elsewhere in France cities using Cristalis trolleybuses include Limoges and St Etienne (both using the 12m rigid version) whilst Milan, Italy, uses the 18.5m articulated versions. All these cities already operate trolleybuses; St Etienne & Milan also use trams too.
North American Experience.
In 2004 the Civis arrived in North America. Opening on 30th June, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) is using Civis buses on a high-profile Bus Rapid Transit service known as MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) in Las Vegas, Nevada to link the Downtown Transportation Center with Nellis Air Force Base via Las Vegas Boulevard North - a distance of about seven miles. This is the fourth busiest Citizens Area Transit route and the second busiest residential-based route on their system, with many of the area's residents being low-income service industry workers who depend on transit to get to work.
MAX requires ten air-conditioned 18.75m diesel-electric articulated Civis buses; because these European vehicles are so different to anything the American transport operators had seen before the first (demonstration) vehicle arrived in Southern Nevada in August 2002 for extensive testing and evaluation with the others coming later. The RTC describe their MAX buses as looking like a cross between a bus and a bullet train. MAX is a Federal Transit Administration national demonstration project. To help meet stringent "local content" requirements these buses are fitted with locally sourced diesel traction units.
In April 2006 discussion on various transport - related Internet chat and advocacy sites suggested that there is disappointment with the vehicles' fuel consumption, which is described as being in the order of 1 (one) litre per km. This is at least partly attributed to their hybrid diesel-electric propulsion system, which is where the fossil fuel motor powers an electric generator which powers the electric motors; it is probable that the vehicles would have been less thirsty had they been series hybrids, which is where the electric motors are powered by on board batteries, with these being charged by a low power fossil fuel engine. However the batteries also impose a weight penalty, plus take up much space - reducing the passenger capacity.
In 2006 it was announced that MAX would be expanded - but rather than using the French Civis buses it would employ the 'similarish' British 'StreetCar' buses - see "f - t - r" below - albeit kitted out with a US sourced hybrid electric drive system instead of the straight diesel engines as on the original British variants. The reason for this change is not known, however it is no secret that the Americans are "less than happy" with the French because of the two countries' different views on global affairs. Some sources suggest that at one stage the Americans even tried to cancel the order for the Civis buses - simply based on global politics. Although the British buses will be driver steered at all times this will not be an issue - as apparently experience has shown that sand blowing over the roadway has so frequently left the road markings either compromised or invisible / unreadable that the optical guidance system has now been deactivated.
|The demonstration Civis vehicle which went to the USA in 2002.
Image: the vehicle manufacturers' publicity material.
|MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) Civis bus in Las Vegas.
Image & license: Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public domain.
MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) Civis buses in Las Vegas.
Image: the vehicle operators' publicity material.
In the mid 2000's the Italian city of Bologna announced plans for a fleet of 49 Civis trolleybuses on a 69 station / 25 km / 4 route TBRT system which was expected to commence operation in 2009. The idea was for the trolleybuses to be optically guided using Optiguide as a full-time guidance system, however after many months of testing during which there was an unacceptably high rate of failure the Optiguide system did not achieve safety certification for speeds higher than about 25km/h, (15mph) this being too low to allow commercially viable journey times.
By 2011 the situation had become quite serious, with the Civis trolleybuses having been delivered but unable to enter service. In April 2011 the contract for the trolleybuses was terminated with the then possibility arising of litigation on the grounds that because the optical guidance could not be used at the required speeds so the Civis buses failed to meet agreed safety standards. In addition questions were being asked about possible financial corruption (possibly involving a former Mayor) in the original planning of this BRT system. Already in 2004 17 people had been prosecuted for a fraud where the transport operator had been named as the injured party...
In the meantime it was decided that the standard trolleybus fleet should be increased from 54 to 93 and as part of a policy of reducing air pollution by eliminating diesel buses in the city centre by 2015 three more fossil fuel bus routes would be electrified / converted to trolleybus operation. In addition the trolleybus power supply voltage is being increased from 600v to 750v. This is being achieved incrementally and also requires existing vehicles to be modified to accept the higher voltage.
What might seem to have been a logical possibility would have been for the Civis trolleybuses to enter service as normal driver steered trolleybuses which use Optiguide for accurate docking at bus stops (and perhaps at a select number of other locations as well), but it seems that since the €109 million financial grant for this TBRT system was for a transport system which used either guided vehicles or another innovative technology, so therefore using them as normal trolleybuses would require that the grant be repaid.
By November 2012 some very lengthy and protracted negotiations found a pragmatic solution which avoided expensive litigation and created a way forward. With the guidance system having in effect been declared not fit for purpose for full-time use it was agreed that using Optiguide solely for bus stop docking would (after all) retain the innovative aspect of project and therefore let it still qualify for government funds. However, for reasons unknown it was also decided to ditch the innovatively-styled Civis buses, returning them all to Irisbus and instead buying a fleet of brand new Créalis buses.
As of June 2013 the fate of the returned Civis buses remains unknown, although one possibility is that some of them might find a home on a planned TBRT service in the Italian city of Padua.
In 2008 a small experimental Trolleybus Rapid Transit (TBRT) system using three 12m rigid optically guided Cristalis vehicles opened in Castellón de la Plana (Castelló de la Plana in Valencian) which is the capital city of the province of Castellón, in the Valencian Community, Spain. This is located to the east of the Iberian Peninsula, on the Costa del Azahar by the Mediterranean Sea.
The idea behind this new TBRT system is to create what is being called a new culture for transport.
The initial line is 2.1km in length but the longer term plans are for a 90km €600million network which will be built incrementally taking until 2019 to complete.
Apparently the original plans were for fully autonomous vehicles which did not have a driver. Optical guidance is used throughout the busway section of the route - and not just for docking at bus stops. However according to Spanish Wikipedia the guidance system is sometimes imprecise so the bus driver sometimes has to intervene.
Link (which opens in a new window) to the Spanish Wikipedia page about this busway
A Cristalis trolleybus fitted with
guidance camera on the TBRT route in Castellón.
Image: the manufacturers' publicity material.
An extension to this line is scheduled to open in 2013. This will see the buses travelling through the unwired city centre and to the port area of Grau. The regional authorities for Valencia are also planning to put the system's operating concession out to tender, with future bidders being required to provide vehicles which are totally electric. It is expected that the fleet will increase to 7 trolleybuses and that because of the unwired city centre they will need powerful batteries. Whether the new operators will retain the existing Cristalis buses remains to be seen,
Further information can be found at this webpage which opens in a new window. http://www.trolleymotion.ch/index.php?id=115&L=3&n_ID=1588.
In August 2004 a Civis vehicle was demonstrated in Manchester as possibly being the type of vehicle which could be used on the proposed Leigh - Salford - Manchester Quality Bus Corridor. If built this BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system will feature an 8km segregated guided busway between Leigh and Ellenbrook using the trackbed of a disused railway which would link up with a further 12km of bus priority measures along the East Lancs Road (A580) and the A6 into Manchester city centre. However, whilst optical guidance might possibly be used for bus stop docking on the street section of the route its more likely that the physical kerb guided system will be used on the ex-railway line. Although believed to still be 'desired' by late 2008 there seems to have been little active progress on these proposals, and December's 'no' vote for road user congestion charging means that government finance for many 'desired' public transport investments in Manchester is now likely to be withheld.
In late 2005 it was announced that there would be trials of optically guided self-steering buses in the English city of Cambridge, and if successful it was proposed that by the end of 2006 a fleet of 22 buses would be so equipped. However these would have been ordinary buses, for which it was anticipated that the cost of fitting of the optical guidance equipment would be £25,000 per bus, plus, for the painted lines a few thousand pounds (paid by the highway authority). In an attempt to try and overcome the negative image of bus travel among car users the interior of the self-steering buses was advertised as going to be upgraded with leather seats, TV screens and - for vehicles which operate longer distance services - wireless broadband internet. However, it seemed that there were no plans for electrification, which would have dispensed with the noisy, bone shaking fossil fuel engine & its exhaust fumes - these also being significant reasons why people who have a choice often choose to avoid bus transport.
Perhaps the principle reason for investigating optical guidance is that would have allowed bus lanes to be 1.5m (5') narrower than those used by driver-steered buses. This was seen as being especially beneficial when travelling through pedestrian zones and narrow streets in city centres, where driver-steered buses are disliked because of a perceived danger that the driver will suddenly veer off course. However, it seems that no-one considered investigating whether local people would have appreciated the use of motor buses in pedestrianised zones, as they would introduce new sources of tail pipe air pollution.
In the longer term it was also proposed that Cambridge might use dual-equipped buses which could use kerb-guidance on a proposed kerb guided busway (which construction began in 2007), and then use optical guidance when travelling on the public highway.
It is very important to note that some of the Cambridge proposals detailed above would have depended on the obtaining of the very important safety certification for the optical guidance, and by no means is it certain that this would have been granted. Already in Britain one high-tech electrical self-steering system has been refused permission for use on buses carrying fare-paying passengers, even though it is safely used elsewhere. This was the magnetic / under-road guidance system trialed on London's Millennium Dome busway in 2000. More information can be found on another page.
Issues with gaining the safety certification may explain why as of September 2006 no information on these proposals had been forthcoming, and as the bus operator did not have a follow-on press release on its web site it was assumed that the proposals were quietly shelved. However this is not so, as in spring 2010 plans were announced to use optical guidance technology on new BRT services in Sheffield. However as the press release about this project is no longer online so it must be assumed that it too has been shelved.
By 2011 the Civis and Cristalis buses had been withdrawn from the bus manufacturers' product range, being replaced with more conventional vehicles - some of which follow the same innovative BRT design theme and include the use of optical guidance as an optional extra.
In 2011 the bus builder Solaris announced a BRT variant of its Urbino city bus which features a tram-style sloping front and integral Optiguide camera.Other features include the use of super-single in the centre axle, transclucent articulation bellows, illuminated ceiling panels, LED floor lighting and high-resolution screens showing real-time routing & connections information located at ceiling level plus above the doorways. However whilst these buses are used in various locations none of them are known to have chosen to also use Optiguide.
The Translohr is being marketed in a range of modular low floor vehicle configurations designed for passenger flows between 2,000 and 5,000 per hour/direction. To achieve this the vehicles come in several variants:-
Translohr vehicles can be between 2.2m and 2.65m wide (as per local requirements) and are bi-directional - with driving cabs at both ends of the vehicle. They have a low floor just 25 cm (approximately 10 inches) above the ground.
Passenger seating can be varied according to requirements too, although there are four pre-designed seating 'formats' - sit/stand, wide or extra wide - other options include installing the seats at right angles to the bays to improve passengers' visibility of the town (transverse seating) or longitudinally to increase (standing) passenger capacity. Another design possibility is for special fittings for bicycles. Total passenger capacity of the vehicles depends on length, width and seating configurations but is claimed to be between 80 to 250. Translohr publicity material suggests that as ridership increases it would be relatively easy to increase passenger capacity on STE3 / STE4 / STE5 vehicles by adding extra modules - up to a maximum length of 6 modules, which equates to the STE6 variant. For really heavily trafficked routes another possibility is for multiple unit operation, although in many countries there are laws restricting the maximum length of vehicles which operate within the street environment.
Translohr vehicles are supported on a series of single-axle bogies that each have a set of twin guidance rollers located at both the forward and aft ends of the bogies. These rollers form a 'V' as they lock on to a guiderail which is located flush with the road surface. They are mounted at 45 degrees to the road surface and at 90 degrees to each other. Linkages from the roller assembly provide the steering function by connecting to the road wheels (see image below). Translohr vehicles have a turning circle of 10.5 metres.
Because the rail profiles are different the GLT/TVR and Translohr tracks are not compatible.
The Translohr is marketed as a tramway and it is intended / expected that at all times the vehicles will remain in guided mode with power coming from an overhead wire via a roof-mounted pantograph and the electric return being via the guide rail. However a design possibility allows for tractive effort without the overhead wire. How this would be achieved depends on local circumstances / requirements. (eg, short distances to be travelled could be powered by flywheels and batteries whilst longer distances might require fossil fuel engines). There are two traction motors providing a total output of 400 kW.
At one time other variants of Translohr vehicles were also proposed, these being the ST and the S. One especially noteworthy feature of the S vehicles is that they were designed to be capable of working away from the guidance rail, with electrical power coming from trolleybus-style twin overhead wires. Other variants which are no longer being advertised was a possibility for vehicles which were uni-directional with a definite 'front' and 'back' and the STE2 comprising of two passenger modules totalling 18 metres in length.
Initially four European cities chose to install Translohr rubber-tyred tramway systems...
Subsequently the Italian city of Latina also opted to install a Translohr system, using 15 STE3 vehicles.
Perhaps noteworthy in the reasoning behind choosing a rubber-tyred system in Clermont-Ferrand is that it is the home city of Michelin tyres, so local prestige demands rubber tyred (and not steel wheel) local transport solutions.
Because of local politics the marketing of the Padua project has variously used the term Metrobus, Metrotram and Sistema Intermedio a Rete (SIR), with the local politicians initially wanting to hide all references to trams and then the opposite.
Reasons why L'Aquila chose a rubber-tyred solution include that the town centre is on a hill and the roads which will be used are both very steep and very narrow, so that there is no space for private rights of way and it was felt that steel wheel trams would not be suited to the inclines. Apparently the first phase (Ospedale S.Salvatore-Centro) will be 7,5 km in length and follows a route which will not serve the railway station - to which a local person made the following comment "certainly it is not a good example of integrated system....".
The Translohr is also being actively marketed in Asia and there is a test / demonstration track (0.5km in length) in Osaka, Japan. However the first Asian system is in China, where a 30km Translohr line is planned in the city of Tianjin, which is East of Beijing. This is being built in several stages, with the first being an approximately 8 km test line. Known as the 'Dongting Street Test Line' it starts at the TEDA (Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area) Station of the light railway, extend northwards along Dongting Street and through the Tianjin new economic and high tech development zone (Tanggu District), ending at the university town with 14 stations along the way. In the initial stage of operations, eight locally built STE4 vehicles are being used, each having three carriages and a maximum speed of 70km/h.
|The Translohr guidance system is based on a pair of wheels mounted at 45 degrees to the road surface and at 90 degrees to each other running on a specially profiled rail embedded flush
in the road surface.
Image & license: Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public domain.
|The Translohr uses lightweight trackage with a very distinctive specialist profile, as seen in this image taken during the construction of the Clermont-Ferrand system.
Image & license: Romary Juin/June 2006 / Wikipedia encyclopædia.
CC BY-SA 3.0 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Rail_section.JPG
|Above and below - four views of the Translohr sourced from the vehicle manufacturers' publicity material.
The view above left shows the wheel units which feature single-axle bogies that each have a set of twin guidance rollers located both in front and behind them.
The view above right shows a STE3 vehicle operating in battery electric mode on the Duppigheim test track.
|Translohr vehicles on demonstration - Clermont-Ferrand left and the Japanese test track right.|
|The inaugural run of the Padua Translohr with tramcar No.03 at the Santo tramstop.
Image & license: Ivanfurlanis / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
|An internal view - note the upholstered perches on the articulations.|
In To Service.
At one time it was expected that both the Clermont-Ferrand and Padua systems would open for passenger services in the autumn / winter of 2005 but the systems were not ready.
Padua did manage to open a short 2.5km section of route before municipal elections in 2004, and this was even visited by the Italian Prime Minister. But this was only a 'showpiece' opening and the line remained closed to full passenger services. With only part of the system ready, only two Translohr trams delivered and operating out of a temporary depôt, September 2006 saw the commencement of a limited service in Padua. That only part of the route was open caused some concern as it included a 675 metre unwired section and there was an element of uncertainty as to whether the "shortened" open section would be long enough to recharge the traction batteries for when travelling in battery-electric mode.
Clermont-Ferrand had a 'grand opening' on Saturday 16th October 2006, with free services operating at low speed (30km/h - 20mph) over a portion of the system which did not include the location of a derailment a few weeks earlier (see below). Then the system closed again, although it has since reopened and the system is in full operation. In Clermont-Ferrand the Translohr operates under railway legislation. The significance of this is that had they operated under road vehicle legislation then they would have been limited to vehicles which were just 25 metres in length.
The Tianjin line was inaugurated on the 6th December with full services beginning on the 10th May 2007.
(Location not specified!)
Image & license: Raphael Frey / Wikipedia encyclopædia: CC BY-SA 3.0
In Place Avenue des Etats-Unis.
Image & license: Fabien1309 / Wikipedia encyclopædia: CC BY-SA 2.0 FR
|Above and below: Translohr vehicles in public service in Clermont-Ferrand, Puy-de-Dôôme, France.|
Place de Jaude.
Image & license: Fabien1309 / Wikipedia encyclopædia: CC BY-SA 2.0 FR
In Place Avenue des Etats-Unis.
Image & license: Fabien1309 / Wikipedia encyclopædia: CC BY-SA 2.0 FR
Part of the purpose of testing is to look for weaknesses and overcome them. So the fact that some may be found should not be automatically seen as a problem.
According to official Translohr publicity "There is no possibility of derailment, even under very poor conditions of adhesion." However, there have been some teething issues, these included a few derailments! Because of this some pundits rather unkindly suggested that the Translohr system is about as un-derailable as the many claims that the Titanic would be unsinkable.
There might be some significance in that whilst the GLT / TVR in Nancy and Caen now exerts a downward pressure of 75 KG on the guide rail the Translohr trams only exert 10% of this.
In Clermont-Ferrand the derailment which occurred on 2nd October 2006 (during pre-opening trials / staff training) was found to have been caused by debris left on the track after a car accident. As a result of this incident the safety official decided not to allow the Translohr to start full commercial service a fortnight later, as originally planned. Instead there was a delay whilst detailed investigations on the incident could be completed. However although passenger services were prohibited test runs were allowed, although initially these excluded the section of track past the site of the derailment.
Padua suffered a string of minor derailments. The first of these was on the 2nd October 2006 and involved a Translohr tram leaving the (temporary) depôt. Following this Padua's Translohr trams were modified with "the mounting of a new device on every vehicle which removes dirt from the rail, and, if it detects an obstacle, it brakes with the emergency brake.".
On 5th May 2007 Padua experienced a more serious derailment where there was both an injury and damage. The incident itself saw the last wheel unit derailing with the rear section of a tram sideswiping a traffic signal, which was actually fortunate because it protected many pedestrians from harm. Unfortunately however a number of glass windows were damaged and one pedestrian was temporarily hospitalised as a result of his injuries.
Apparently this derailment was blamed upon issues with the road surface. It seems that a stone sett worked loose and made its way into the vehicle's articulation, and although it was not blocking the guidance rail the unfortunate chance of the tram passing over a point in the trackage somehow resulted in a partial derailment. Although the automated obstacle detection system was activated it seems that it was not possible to prevent the incident. Some reports suggest that there is at least an element of culpability on the part of the tram driver, with suggestions that he / she ignored a warning signal. Other reports suggest that this could be because the warning system often activated without valid reasons (ie: false alerts).
It should be noted that at the time these notes were written (15th May 2007) the information on this accident was based on unofficial reports, so may need revision at a later date.
Another derailment occurred on 11th July 2007. No-one was hurt but the service was interrupted for a while, with different sources suggesting 90 minutes - a couple of hours. It is possible that somehow the malfunctioning of a point was to blame for this incident.
There was yet another derailment on the 31st October 2007, with a tram derailing at a junction in the track and the point / switch / turnout not being set properly for the correct route. It seems that the cause of the problem might have something to do with a radio controlled junction actuation system which is being blocked or otherwise suffering from some kind of interference, as apparently there have previously been problems at this specific location. The delays from this incident were relatively small - approximately half an hour. Apparently the same day also saw a delegation from Shanghai, China, visiting to look at the Translohr system with a view to using it in their home city.
Tianjin had its first derailment on 20th August 2007 with two wheel units becoming derailed and the vehicle swinging out to completely block a three lane roadway.
|Padua's Translohr tramway includes a city centre unwired section where the trams are powered by batteries.
Image & license: Ivanfurlanis / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
|Padua Translohr tramcar number 14 being towed by the emergency vehicle after the derailment of 29th October 2007.
Image & license: Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain
|Switching tracks at the stop outside the railway station.
Note how the articulation covers open up when negotiating curved track.
|Two pass near the Eremintani stop, with there being a very healthy crowd waiting on the platform.|
|A view of the crossover seen being used above showing a Translohr point (turnout / switch in American).||In contrast to the GLT/TVR and ordinary trams, the Translohr requires special equipment which maintains continuous guidance where rail routes intersect.|
|The articulation covers open out when turning sharper curves - this view shows the outside of the curve.||This view of a Translohr tram negotiating a busy junction close to the main railway station also shows the inside of the curve.|
|These images come from near the Eremintani stop where the line runs alongside the edge of the road / close to a footpath and show provision for an uninstalled crossover.
Whether this is uninstalled because of changes to the original plans (perhaps as a cost cutting exercise) or that it is intended to install this at a later date but provision was made during
the construction phase (as a cost saving exercise) is unknown.
Left: It is to be presumed that the indentation in the footpath is required for the vehicle's wheels to expand over the swept path followed by vehicles travelling straight.
Right: This better shows the uninstalled crossover... as well as an access cover on the section of road surface used by the vehicle's wheels and (next to it) what looks like a break (ie: damage) to the road surface - both of which will result in a lessening of the vehicle's ride quality.
The side of the drivers' cab, showing the CCTV camera to help for him / her with door closing (a feature which is often found on trams), and the notice on the vehicle's passenger doors.
On the 27th of August the opening of the last of section Clermont-Ferrand's first line saw it finally reaching its planned ultimate first stage length. Since then there have been several extensions. Matters financial are understood to be the primary constraining factor why an extension originally scheduled for 2011 is now expected to open in 2013.
Passenger-wise the system is proving to be very successful, with the original anticipated daily ridership of 35,000 passengers per day being proven to have been a significant under-estimate. Instead by August 2007 it was carrying 42,000 passengers per day, with peaks of 54,000 and the highest recorded being 64,000 - and as a consequence of this higher ridership plus the extension that was originally planned to open in 2011 another six (6) Translohr trams were ordered from Lohr Industries for delivery in June 2008 (these have now arrived). On a less happy note one of Clermont-Ferrand's vehicles was wrecked in a fire on Boxing Day 2009, with the cause being attributed to the brakes on one axle seizing.
Image & license: Kirikou / Wikipedia encyclopædia: CC BY-SA 3.0
Image & license: Kirikou / Wikipedia encyclopædia: CC BY-SA 3.0
Translohr track under construction on Parisian line T6.
More locations - in Asia and France.
In October 2008 construction began of a 9.8km Translohr tramway in Zhangjiang, which is to the south-east of Shanghai, China. The initial plans were for 12 STE3 Translohr vehicles serving a route which extends from Zhangjiang High-tech Park Station of Metro Line 2 to Jinqiu Road, on a route which serves 15 stations and crosses seven river channels - requiring the building of one bridge and renovation of 10 further bridges. According to Xu Daofang, a chief engineer of tram engineering who works for the Shanghai Transportation Engineering Society, Zhangjiang is a good place to implement the city's first tram line because "it is not as busy as the city centre and construction will not affect many people". The first 9 Translohr trams arrived in February 2009 and the line opened on 31st December 2009. The choice of Translohr tramway technology was influenced by a desire to minimise 'track noises', with the rubber tyres being perceived as being more likely to make meeting this desire possible than than steel wheels. In addition, it was felt that rubber tyres would be better able to cope with the hilly terrain in the local area.
Another location where a Translohr tramway is under construction in Ayacucho, Medellin, Columbia (South America). 4.3km (2.7 miles) in length this line will use 12 STE5 Translohr trams and is expected to be opening late 2014 / early 2015. The line will be on a high profile green corridor which includes gradients of up to 12% and curves of radii of 20m on the passenger route and 10m on the route to the depot.
In 2009 media reports suggested that a Translohr line was going to be installed in Ho-Chi-Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam, linking the Thu Thiem Ferry near the city centre with the regional bus terminal. 12.5km in length there would be 23 intermediate stops and it would use 15 STE5 Translohr trams. Later reports (in 2010) said that the agreement for this line was signed in November 2009 with construction supposed to start in July 2010 and a tentative opening date of January 2012. However, for reasons unknown nothing further has been heard, suggesting that this line was not actually built.
Other locations which have also expressed an interest in having a Translohr tramway system include Strasbourg in France and Bamako - the capital city of the African nation of Mali.
Two of the new tramways being built in the Paris / Île-de-France area are destined to use Translohr trams. These are lines T5, linking Saint-Denis with Garges-Sarcelles and T6, linking Châtillon with Viroflay. T6 will follow a radial route 14km in length (including a 1.6km underground section) through the city's southern suburbs. There will be 21 stops, two of these will be underground. T6 will use a fleet of 28 Translohr trams which will be of the longest STE6 format - making this the first fleet of such vehicles. Services were initally expected to start in 2010, which then slipped to two stages in 2011 and 2012, and now to 2014 for the surface section. Tunnelling for the subterranean section only began in March 2013 and is expected to take 9 months, with passenger services through the tunnel commencing in 2015.
T5 has 16 stops and is 6.6km in length. It uses 15 Translohr STE3 format trams.
Originally scheduled to open in 2011, the first Translohr tram was delivered in April 2012 with intensive night-time testing starting in May. Initially these trials included getting to understand the vehicle's braking and emergency stop capabilities. More extensive systemwide testing using two trams began in July 2012, and the line opened on 29th July 2013.
Translohr tram on Parisian line T5 on driver training trials in May 2013.
Image & license: Cavaldefrance / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
|Translohr tram in Shanghai.
Image & license: Unsonique / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
|Translohr in Binhai New Area (aka Tanggu), Tianjin
Image & license: Tnds / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
|More photographs of the Tianjin Translohr can be found on the Gakei.com website at http://gakei.com/tsn/tsnt.htm (Link opens in a new window)
More Italian Happenings.
In 2010 Padua suffered two more derailments. The first occurred on 13th January and although no official statement was made it seems that the tram derailed at a junction / on pointwork. Human error is suspected as the cause. No-one was hurt. The second derailment occurred on 26th April and it seems that a tram travelling at 25km/h approaching a junction and expecting to travel 'straight ahead' encountered a point which was set for turning right, a manouevre which requires a much lower speed of around 5km/h. Sources suggest an electrical issue affecting the point had resulted in it being set in the wrong direction. Again, no-one was hurt. What is also perhaps very relevant here is that had a normal 'duorail' tram encountered a similar situation it too would almost certainly have also derailed, as the centrifugal force would have been too great to permit it to make the turn at the higher speed.
At one time the Padua system was understood to be going to be expanded, with another five routes being proposed (SIR 2 - SIR 6). Fleet expansion was expected to include some STE4 trams in addition to the STE3 trams currently being used. In December 2012 the Mayor of Padua hinted that SIR 2 might use approximately 30 of Bologna's discarded Civis trolleybuses instead. This would be on a 12.5km cross-city reserved right of way linking Ponte di Brenta with Sarmeola di Rubano, travelling via the central railway station.
Padua experienced its first derailment for some time on 15th August 2013. This was on a curved section of track between 7.30am and 8am in the morning. What is perhaps noteworthy however is that on the preceding few days (12-14th August) the entire system had been closed for major maintenance and media reports were suggesting that some sort of technical oversight was being seen as a likely cause. Although passengers were being carried on the vehicle which derailed there were no injuries. The system was closed for about 4 hours, this being how long it took to take the derailed vehicle to the depot and carry out safety checks on the trackage.
This derailment also sparked some controversy, with the Translohr trams being said to be too expensive to maintain compared with normal buses, that the system has not resulted in the overall commercial speed improving and that with a funding request for second Translohr line about to be lodged with the government so maybe "normal buses" would be more cost effective.
Image & license: Gabriele Foltran / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tram-carossa.JPG
The first section of the Mestre (Venice) Translohr tram opened on 20th December 2010.
When completed there will be two lines operating a 'T' shaped network. The principal delay in completing the system was the need for a 400m underpass so that trams on Line 1 could get past Mestre railway station and reach trams on Line 2, which is the route that will serve Venice, as well as provide better interchange with local bus services. This has proven to be a major stumbling block. The main difficulties come from the presence of water (which requires the soil to be frozen whilst excavating the tunnel) and the absolute need to maintain railway services during the works. Between 23rd January 2009 and 20th February 2011 work on the underpass tunnel had to be stopped due to a sinkhole. A rough excavation of the underpass was completed in April 2013 and all works are expected to have been completed by October 2013. The underpass will include a tramstop which will allow easy interchange between the tramway and the railway.
Further extensions are also planned, including seeing trams reach Marco Polo airport and an underwater link below the lagoon. A 1.8km extension to improve connections with the water buses (vaporetti) and help regenerate the San Basilio area is scheduled to open in 2015.
Things did not go at all well in L'Aquila. With work well underway and some of the Translohr trams having already been purchased the project was then delayed by a combination of route changes, a lack of money, alleged financial irregularities with respect to some of the contracts and that some European Union regulations regarding the awarding of major construction contracts had not been followed - resulting in a court ordering that construction work must be stopped for an investigation. The earthquake of 2009 which caused much destruction in the city has also 'not helped' and is probably what proved to have been the 'final straw'. According Italian Wikipedia, despite significant construction having been completed, including the depot, bus stop shelters much of the track and overhead wires, at some stage during 2013 (no date specified) work began to disassemble the overhead wire power supply system. This installation is officially cancelled.
In November 2009 the municipality of Latina agreed to a 15km Translohr line linking the railway station, town centre and a coastal suburb. In January 2012 city engineers visited the Translohr factory to find that six Translohr trams were almost ready for delivery, even though not a metre of track had been built! The project has now been abandoned, with an estimated €46 million of the total project cost of €130million having been spent. Reports suggested that Lohr charged a garaging fee until the completed but no longer needed vehicles found new buyers. The project is likely to result in a legal investigation.
The most recent update to this text was made in August 2013.
Unhappy Pedal & Motor Cycle Users.
According to the web page linked below, in April 2009 the Mestre system was the site of four cyclist accidents in just three days . The page also references many bicycle and scooter accidents in Padua (when that line was new), and suggests that the issue could
be related to wet rails (in rainy weather) being very slippery. However it is also suggested that when wet some footpaths were also slippery...
Because of the extraordinary number of accidents involving motor and pedal cyclists in 2006 Padua introduced a ban on all cyclists from using a certain section of the Translohr route where there was an alternative cycle path.
|Four images showing the Mestre-Venice Translohr trams.
Image & license: Public domain providing that the photographer's name (Luca Fascia) is quoted.
On the afternoon of 10th January 2011 a Translohr tram in Clermont-Ferrand derailed and crashed (sideways) against a concrete wall, with one woman being hurt. This was the system's first derailment since entering full public service.
In June 2012 the Lohr Group was in such dire financial trouble that it had to file for Bankruptcy. After tough negotiations it sold its profitable Translohr interests to a company named New TL which is owned by Alstom and the French government-owned Strategic Investment Fund. The deal included the Parisian transport operator RATP agreeing to waive a financial penalty for late delivery of the trams for line T5. This deal is expected to ensure the future of the Translohr rubber tyred tramway system.
In 2013 the new owners of New TL added a unidirectional vehicle to the product catalogue. This is known as Translohr Prime.
The new owner is a well established and respected manufacturer of trams and trains who has seen the growing popularity of BRT systems reduce the sales possibilities of its trams, and it has decided to try to reclaim that market by introducing a new alternative solution that uses fixed infrastructure, is electric and looks like a real tramway whilst still being as affordable as BRT systems which use normal buses.
To help achieve this and make Translohr Prime more bus-like the vehicles are unidirectional with the rear driving cab being replaced with a new passenger's area that features six extra seats (three inward facing longitudinal seats each side of the vehicle) and all the passenger doors on one side (of the vehicle) replaced with extra seating. Being unidirectional means that Translohr Prime reverses its direction of travel by being driven around a loop - many bus and tram routes are already like this, sometimes with extended loops that serve a bus stop or two in one direction only. The manufacturer's promotional material describes Translohr Prime as being an optimised version of the existing Translohr system.
Translohr Prime vehicles are available in three lengths - 25 metres, 32 metres and 39 metres. It is possible to purchase shorter vehicles at first and as traffic levels increase add extra modules at a later date. (Adding extra modules is a specialist task that will need doing in a factory). It is also possible to operate two Translohr Prime vehicles in multiple unit, and if this is done with the driver's cabs at both outer ends then full bi-directional reversibility also becomes possible.
Compared to normal driver-steered articulated buses, a private right-of-way using Translohr Prime requires less land width. For straight sections of roadway buses usually require a strip of land about 7 metres in width; Translohr Prime only requires 5.18 metres. On curves buses can need up to 12 metres, whilst at most Translohr Prime will only require 6.7 metres.
In Holland a fleet of 12 distinctively-styled 'experimental prototype' buses were built for the 15km Phileas system which links Eindhoven Central Station with its airport and Veldhoven, serving the Westcorridor development zone. Most of the fleet are 18m in length with a single articulation although there is one 24m double-articulated variant too. The concept also allows for even longer 26m double articulated variants - for use where local laws permit vehicles of this length.
Phileas has been partially funded by the Dutch government, local governments in Eindhoven & surrounding areas and the private sector.
Most of the first generation Phileas buses featured a gas powered, 'series' style, hybrid-electric drive system whereby an LPG engine operated at a constant speed providing power for both the electric motors and the NiMH storage batteries. All wheels except the front wheels are motored. The vehicles also regenerate their braking energy into the batteries which have been designed to allow up to 3km of inner-city operation with the LPG engine switched off. The use of this type of hybrid drive was claimed to reduce fuel consumption by up to 30% compared to an LPG powered motor bus of comparable size.
By way of a further refinement (and experimentation) one vehicle was also fitted with a flywheel which provided the energy required to start from rest, with the LPG engine then taking over. To further boost fuel efficiency the flywheel is recharged by regenerative braking whilst decelerating.
To reduce the costs and the weight of the vehicles, plus to cure overheating problems with the LPG engines, the second generation Phileas buses use the GM Allison 'parallel' style hybrid-electric driveline, and after experience in service (see below) the original fleet has also been converted to this drive configuration. One consequence of this is that solely the rear wheels are motored. To avoid too much duplication the differences between the series and parallel hybrid systems is looked at in greater detail on the Hybrid buses page.
To increase fuel efficiency the construction of Phileas buses includes extensive use of lightweight materials such as aluminum and plastic. Modular construction means that some aspects of vehicle configuration can be adjusted to suit a transport operators perceived requirements (eg: door positioning). Internally all seats and stanchions are mounted in the buses' inside walls - this is claimed to make extra space for (shopping etc) bags to be stored under the seats as well as simplify internal cleaning. Phileas buses are fully air-conditioned.
A unique feature is the all-wheel steering. This allows the Phileas buses to move sideways (crab-like) and at bus stops helps ensure very precise docking with a gap between vehicle and platform of just 5cm (2"). Because bus stop platforms are of the same height as the buses' floor these features should help to improve access for special needs people and speed the service by helping to reduce dwell time when calling at bus stops. Passenger capacities are around 140 in what is now the 18.5m version, 170 in what is now the 24.5m version and 185 in the 26m version.
Next to the dedicated vehicles the core of the Phileas system is its pioneering guidance technology based on magnetic beacons. This is known as FROG - this being an acronym for Free Ranging On Grid navigation technology. FROG vehicles are equipped with a computer that contains a map of the area in which the vehicle operates, the technology is ideal for buses which usually follow the same predetermined routes and can always be manually driven on other roads. Phileas buses are just one of several bus services to use FROG - the others include the ParkShuttle bus at Amsterdam Schipol airport and Rivium plus a former experimental installation in the (French) Antibes.
FROG is a commercial product of an Utrecht-based company called Frog Navigation Systems, who also trade as 2gethere.
FROG features magnets which are embedded (at 4m intervals) in the concrete road surface. These are read by the on-board computer system which has also been programmed with details of the route to be followed. The computers also monitor wheel revolutions; this provides precise location information and helps the computer guide the buses both along the correct route and into bus stops. The promoters of Phileas claim that in adverse weather conditions - such as snow and ice - FROG will provide a more secure system than the Optical guidance system used by the French Civis (etc.,) buses.
FROG also provides vehicle location data for electronic "real time" information systems - not just for passengers waiting at bus stops but also for in-vehicle passenger information announcements & displays and for "off-system" users - such as mobile phone and Internet based information services.
Phileas and FROG combined offer three driving options:-
The testing of the FROG guidance system on the Phileas buses has been dogged with challenges. Apparently these include finding that it suffered from electrical interference - such as from traffic signals. There have also been some issues with driver alertness - especially when the vehicles are operating in automatic mode. Part of the issue here is that it is intended that automatic mode will be used even when Phileas vehicles are operating on the normal highway (which is shared with other traffic) and subject to pedestrians who do not want to be told that to cross the road they must wait for the "cross now" symbol at specified crossing points which may be "out of the way" for where they are going... nor want to miss a bus at a bus stop simply because a traffic signal says that it is unsafe to cross the road.
The images below date from August 2006, and as is shown, not enough Phileas buses were available to operate all the journeys on the airport service. On speaking with some local people it was found that whilst the buses themselves were fine there were still issues with the three high-tech computer systems not being able to work together. The rest of the buses were off the road at the maintenance facility.
|Crossing a traffic signal controlled junction whilst on the reserved lane BRT (bus rapid transit) busway.||The double-articulated vehicle.
Image sourced from the promoter's promotional material.
|Promotional material suggests that Phileas buses operate on bus routes 401 (Airport) and sometimes also 402 (Veldhoven) however on the day these photographs were taken services on route 401 were being shared between two Phileas buses and two regular motorbuses.||An airport-bound bus arrives as the Bredalaan bus stop. The green strip on the bus stop platform is actually a row of LED's (light emitting diodes) which change colour and provide various animations as buses approach, leave, etc.|
|The on-board ticket machine.||Phileas buses feature several pairs of wide plug style doors.
Note the passenger information display above the doors
and the LPG sticker on the door to right.
|Internal view looking towards the front.||Internal view looking towards the back.
The lack of rear window is most noticeable.
August 2007 Update.
The following information comes from an Internet discussion group, having been submitted by someone with local knowledge.
"In Eindhoven the Phileas buses operate on two routes, No. 401 between the central station & the airport and No.402 to Veldhoven, which is a suburb. These two routes require eight buses to operate, however after more than
three years testing of the Phileas system (including GPS guidance) it is still quite usual for there to only be (at most) four Phileas buses available for service, with standard articulated motorbuses providing the rest of the
service. The remaining Phileas buses are unavailable due to maintenance, testing, malfunctioning etc.
In addition it was reported that several months previously the company FROG/2getthere had gone into bankruptcy, although it later proved possible to start a new business with at least some of the former workforce so as to prevent the total loss of the specialist knowledge and experience with guided systems.
From a passenger's point of view despite its austere looking interior Phileas does provide the significant 'step change' in improved passenger ambiance that defines it as being more than a motorbus. The LPG engine is very quiet, and is only noticeable by passengers travelling right at the back of the bus. Apart from that the general ambiance is more like that of a trolleybus. Acceleration is very smooth, and at times, brisk. The brakes are ferocious, so standing passengers must hold tight! Benefiting from very good suspension the vehicles quite literally float over any unevenness in the road surface, so that it is only just about felt. However the soft suspension also means that standing passengers gain the impression of it leaning a quite a bit on bends - it is perhaps just as well that the vehicles are only single deck buses.
On 15th December 2007 with the Phileas buses still suffering from such severe technical problems that only three vehicles were available for service, nine of the Phileas buses were withdrawn from Eindhoven for rebuilding by the vehicle manufacturer. The rebuild saw the LPG engines being replaced with diesel engines and conversion from 'series' to 'parallel' type hybrid operation. However, the batteries (which had been reported to often failing) were not replaced. Fitting the new engines has resulted in the buses being lengthened by 40cm (a little under 16") at the back, which had some unanticipated repercussions when, upon their return to service in December 2008, it was found that at some road configurations the longer rear overhang was now over-riding the footpath and creating a safety hazard - with at least once a moving vehicle having collided with a pedestrian! These works were estimated to cost €4.500.000, this being €500,000 per bus.
With technical issues still continuing September 2008 saw the decision being taken to formally abandon the use of the FROG automatic guidance system, except for docking at bus stops.
According to media reports the vehicles would quickly accelerate to their 80km/h (50mph) top speed and then stay at that speed, and if was not for the driver slamming on the brakes they would even sail straight through red traffic signals and other road intersections. In addition to the issues with potential collisions these emergency-type stops were also unpopular with the passengers, who often would be badly thrown around - or worse. Other times the buses would just stop and restart at locations where nobody wants to get on or off. Angry passengers would often blame and swear at the driver, not understanding that the system was supposed to able to operate automatically - and not as if under the possession of a maniacal demonic spirit.
As was explained above, the Phileas system which cost more than €80 million to create has become known (by the Dutch people) as a "Phileasco", this being a merging of the words 'Phileas' and 'fiasco'.
Its easy to see why it was believed that the technology could be made to work - after all in addition to the working test track the core concept had already been validated, such as at the two places seen here, both of which were included in the portfolio of the company behind the FROG technology.
|One of the ParkShuttle automated vehicles which links Rotterdam's Kralingse Zoom metro station and the Rivium business park. With 8 stations, 6 'cabin' sized vehicles and a 1.8km route this can also
be described as a PRT (personal rapid transport) system. The route includes at grade crossing points for pedestrians and other traffic, which are negotiated in fully automatic mode.
Image & license: Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public domain.
|Automated driverless vehicles at Floriade 2002.
25 such vehicles operated over a 700m route journey at 25 second intervals. Research conducted during the flower show found that despite being driverless people of all ages were happy to use the system without any reservations.
Image: © http://www.2getthere.eu/ Usage only permitted if credited.
Other Phileas Bus Systems.
In 2005 an agreement was signed to create and market a Korean version of Phileas, where it is estimated that there could be a market for as many as 600 Phileas buses.
The Korean Phileas version is being developed in co-operation with Hyundai KRRI, and includes the introduction of a series fuel cell propulsion system. A photograph of a Korean Phileas bus can be found at this link.
Unfortunately no further information is given... not even the location, whether it is a prototype or production vehicle, how it is powered, etc.
On 7 July 2005 a contract was signed for the introduction of a Phileas bus system to link the French city of Douai with the nearby community of Guesnain. Initially to be called "Tram 2007" the contract consisted of twelve 18m second generation Phileas buses which use the diesel-parallel type of hybrid propulsion system and would be delivered by the end of 2007. At some stage however the proposed fleet changed to ten 18m single articulated and two 24m double articulated Phileas buses.
Phase one of what was projected to be Line 1 is 12km in length, and features 39 stations approximately 400m apart. As some of the proposed bus stops/stations use island platforms the buses feature doors on both sides. The project also included reducing so called 'visual clutter' by burying existing overhead wires (telephones, electricity).
The system was expected to cost around €117 million, and serve approximately 70.000 inhabitants. Planned peak service freqencies were every 10 minutes, with a planned maximum of 900 travellers per hour. As with many other French transport schemes a catchy marketing name was chosen, this being Evéole. The original idea had been for a different rubber-tyred tram technology (the TVR) but because the expected amount of government grant monies was reduced so the Phileas system which did not require the same level of physical infrastructure (and was expected to be cheaper) was chosen.
It was always planned that the Evéole buses would operate in self-guided mode, with this being seen as a very valuable tool and one of the main reasons for choosing the Phileas bus system rather than less high-tech buses and implementing a more traditional BRT scheme. The reasoning behind this was not just vanity or a me too desire for Douai to have a tram-type mode of transport. The route includes some space restricted configurations where automatic guidance offered logistical benefits compared with driver-steered buses.
The first Evéole bus arrived in Douai on 18th November 2006. It was expected that once the full fleet had arrived and the staff had been trained passenger services would commence in the first quarter of 2008, however by September 2007 this time frame had slipped to the end of June 2008, whilst by mid-April 2008 this had slipped even further - to September 2008. Initially the delay was understood to be because of late delivery of the fleet of buses, although the slippage to September has been attributed to a need for the FROG guidance system (which was new to France) to achieve its safety certification. By September 2008 and with the safety certification still not having been obtained it was announced that the first public services were unlikely to commence before the summer of 2009. By early 2009 the year 2010 had been seen as a suggested date!
Because the Phileas / Evéole buses were new to France and because of their innovative all-wheel steering they could not just be used in driver-steered mode, as they needed safety certification for this mode as well.
In so many ways the Eindhoven abandonment of the FROG magnetic guidance system also creates a big problem for Douai, as this was one of the system's unique features which so attracted the various officials to it. All these delays with getting the buses into service meant that Douai also paid the price for using something new for which testing is always much more thorough than with a system which uses known technology that exists elsewhere.
A visitor to Douai in September 2008 reported using a regional bus service which for much of its route within Douai uses the road which is to become the Phileas route. He noted that the busway consists of a wide swathe of concrete six or seven metres wide in the middle of the road, totally unused, while city and interurban buses have to share one narrow lane in each direction with all the other traffic. He added that the driver of the bus he was travelling on got fed up of having to line up behind all this, so as that bus didn't have to serve all the city bus stops he simply pulled out onto the middle of the road and zoomed down the centre of the empty busway, overtaking everyone - cars, vans, buses, the lot. However, another visitor expressed surprise that such was possible, as when he visited the area he saw the busway being used by local people as a car park.
Meanwhile, even before the system had even started carrying passengers extensions and a second line were already being planned. Line 2 was planned to be 5.2km in length and link the Centre Hospitalier de Dechy with Line 1 at Place Carnot in Douai. An un-named line was also planned to extend 5.2km from Douai (Place Carnot) to Frais Marais Templerie via the town of Waziers. In two extensions of Line 1 were mooted - these being from Gesnain via the interchange point in Masny to Douai (3.3km) and the interchange point in Masny to d'Auberchicourt (2.4km). The extensions would feature 24 stops and were costed at €124.8 million. Work was provisionally expected to commence late in 2009 with completion in 2012, however in the event works were stalled until 2013, as described below.
Open - at last!
The 'Evéole' BRT system finally opened to fare paying passengers on Sunday 8th February 2010, with the buses operating in driver steered mode. To get through space-restricted locations and when two of the buses were passing it was necessary to significantly reduce the operating speed by 25km/h to just 30km/h.
Because of the problems related to the FROG guidance system not having achieved reliability and hence safety certification so at one stage it looked likely that APTS (the company which created the Phileas system) would find itself facing litigation, however in June 2010 a €9m agreement was reached to continue development of the guidance system and make it work. Apparently it transpired that the development of FROG had never actually progressed beyond the experimental stage, and although it worked well enough on a private gated estate (and on the other schemes as detailed above) to convince the transport planners of Douai that it would be ideal for their city it had never actually worked well enough on a public street. For this to be possible the software needs partially re-working with a higher / more robust safety specification. To assist here a new (third) partner joined the project. The new plans included trial running in guided mode starting summer 2013 and a fresh safety case being filed with the regulatory authority in November 2013. Then, if all is well, it will be possible for the use of the FROG automated mode in approximately April 2014.
Whilst the guidance is supposed to be capable of operating in fully automated mode (as detailed above) it may end up being used in semi-automatic mode. Included in the specifications are that because the system is supposed to always know where the vehicle is so at stops it will automatically unlock the passenger doors on the correct side (ie: kerbside / central island) and other safety features will include invoking the emergency brake if it deviates by more than 15cm (6") from its intended path or if an obstacle is detected in front of it.
More Vehicles. Route Expansion. More Problems.
Not withstanding the woes relating to the FROG magnetic guidance system, more Evéole buses have been ordered, with delivery expected for late 2014 / early 2015 when construction of Line A phase 2 has been completed. This will include the two buses which were already built but stayed in Holland for FROG guidance trials (one each, single and double-articulated) and six new double-articulated vehicles. Once delivered the fleet will then consist of 10 single-articulated 18 metre and 8 double-articulated 24.5 metre buses.
Construction of a 7.2km extension of Line A linking Douai with Aniche was expected to begin in January 2013 and is scheduled to take about 18 months. The new section of line is being built to different standards so that it would be more suited to driver steered operation.
New problems arose in late 2012 with so many of the Evéole buses off the road that it became impossible to maintain a full schedule. The problems include the heavy winter snow damaging to the articulation bellows, transmission failures on the rear axle and other mechanical issues. The situation was not helped by the cost of maintenance for the vehicles which were now old enough to be beyond their warranty period and longer than desired lead times for spare parts from the Dutch manufacturer. In addition, at some stage and for reasons not known the third partner involved in the reworking of the guidance system had left the team and the date-related milestone of 1st February 2013 by when development of a working guidance system should have been achieved was missed.
According the Internet forum linked below missing this milestone has created a final straw situation. Douai has formally requested repayment of a €3 million contribution towards the cost of the software
required for a fully working magnetic guidance system. In addition, APTS was sent a formal notice requiring it to fulfil its contractual obligations - which are understood to relate to the FROG guidance system and the new buses.
This link opens in a new window.
What happens next remains to be seen. It might involve a court of law. Perhaps in the end a solution will be found that is similar in theme to the solutions adoped in Bologna and on the Rouen TEOR system. These use artifical guidance solely for bus stop docking - plus perhaps at the space restricted locations. This would help officials retain their honour by still employing an aspect of the schemes' innovation.
Meanwhile, it has been suggested that Douai may end up buying other types of bus for what is looking likely to end up as a simple BRT system. They need vehicles which feature doors on both sides, which although rare for buses is not totally unknown. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be in finding vehicles which will physically fit some of the road configurations.
As part of an effort to start moving forwards again in September 2013 the system will be given a makeover, with the hope of restoring passenger levels from the 2013 figure of 2.5% (of all urban jouurneys) to 4% - which it was a decade earlier.
The latest update to what is looking like a nightmarish saga was made in July 2013.
As an aside, in the future automated guidance and even fully automated driving will arrive somewhere. Such technologies are known be being tested, for instance in the USA. History will likely show that the Dutch creators of the FROG magnetic guidance system were right - but just 'too early' with what they were trying to do.
This livery suggests that since it was not possible to use lawn
track so the grass would be on the buses instead!
Image & license: Florian Fèvre / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
This Evéole bus is in a newer livery.
Image &license: Camille Driguet / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Douai Phileas "Evéole" pseudo (ersatz) rubber tyred trams in Douai.
In late summer 2007 a BRT system using some Phileas buses opened in Istanbul, Turkey. Initially this was planned to use a mix of other buses with 50 parallel hybrid double articulated Phileas buses 26 metres in length which have a 'normal' capacity of approximately 230 passengers each. These buses have doors on both sides. Much of the route is single track alongside the E5 freeway, and this BRT system was expected to cost around €60 million.
As the Phileas buses were not available when the system opened initial services used two of the Dutch Phileas buses (one each, single and double articulated) plus other buses. The new Phileas buses were introduced as soon as they became available.
In Istanbul things have not gone too well for Phileas, with reports suggesting that by summer 2009 most of these almost brand new buses had already had to be taken out of service with major problems which include difficulties in climbing steep hills and breakages to the vehicles' suspension system. The issue has been exasperated by broken down buses causing severe problems on the single-track nature of their dedicated right of way, blocking it so that other buses are unable to pass. The matter is so serious that it has even been discussed in Parliament and plans to buy 50 more Phileas buses have been put on hold.
Apparently the hill climbing issue is that the buses are designed to climb a 2.5% gradient at 40km/h, but the people of Istanbul see this as being too slow / are used to other buses doing so more quickly. Local speculation talks of the Phileas buses being more suited to flat countries like Holland than locations where heavily loaded vehicles are required to climb even gentle hills.
The problems with the suspension could have been caused by overcrowding. Buses normally have a maximum capacity limit on the number of passengers allowed to travel; these vehicles were designed to carry up to 230 passengers - or possibly as many as 280 at busy times, but reports from British visitors suggest that for large parts of the day (and over long distances) they are 'packed like sardines' with possibly as many as 350 passengers onboard.
In Italy a trolleybus Phileas service is under construction which will link Porta Nuova station in the city of Pescara with Porto Allegro in the nearby town of Montesilvano.
Initially for Line 1 there will be six 18 metre single articulated Phileas trolleybuses with a capacity of between 145 and 155 passengers each. The route will be approximately 8.2km in length, with 17 stops and a target end to end journey time of about 20 minutes - this being about half the present day journey time. Most of the route will be on private rights of way, with 30 road crossings where the automatically driven Phileas trolleybuses will benefit from traffic signal priority. 4.8km of the route will use a former railway right of way known as Strada Parco. The overhead wire support poles will be 6 metres in height and of an award winning decorative design. They will be located 30 metres apart and also double up as street lighting supports, reducing the need for other street furniture.
This service was first proposed in 1992, construction has been dogged by disagreements and as some aspects of what is being proposed are locally controversial so there might yet be some late changes to what finally transpires. Other issues include that an environmental assessment of the project which by law should have been carried out before it started was not done, issues related to the footpaths and cycle tracks alongside the segregated route not being wide enough (apparently the footpaths are illegally narrow and cannot be used by people in wheelchairs), unhappiness over the felling of trees and allegations of corruption / wrongful payments made at the start of the project which increased total costs - the original 1992 plans were for a 25km line costing €31m, yet what is being built is costing the same even though its just 8.5km long! Whilst inflation and possible financial shenanigans at the time of the switch from Italian Lira to the Euro may partly explain this, this does not seem to represent the whole story.
In November 2011 Pescara unveiled the first of its blue and silver liveried Phileas buses.
Even though the system has yet to open two extensions have already been planned.
The system has been given an official name of Filò and a website launched at http://www.filo-pe.it (link to external site opens in a new window). NB: a check in June 2013 found that this website was no longer working.
By summer 2013 the efforts of a local protest group who do not want to see the Strado Parco closed railway route converted into a transport corridor has resulted in construction works having been halted for over a year.
Coastal Metro, Italy.
Also in Italy nine Phileas guided trolleybuses will be used on a new 9.8km TBRT (trolleybus rapid transit) service which will run alongside the Bologna - Ancona railway and fill an historical gap separating the coast side (which is particularly busy in the summer) and the city side (which is the main residential area). The project is called Trasporto Rapido Costiero (TRC) (Coastal Rapid Transport) whilst services will be known as the Metrò di Costa (Coastal Metro).
The Coastal Rapid Transport scheme will involve an almost fully segregated reserved right of way which will vary between 3.5 and 7 metres in width, with 60% of the route comprising of bi-directional single track, plus a 600 metre tunnel. The first phase will feature 17 stations and a planned 10 minute service frequency. Seven of the stops will feature central island platforms, the rest will use the more traditional (for buses) kerb side platforms. Destinations served will include several railway stations, including Rimini and Riccione which will be the two initial terminal points. Other stops will serve park and ride facilities and popular tourist attractions.
Construction works are currently underway, albeit still at an early stage, progressing slowly, and without a known estimated opening date. One reason for the uncertainty is that there are two local interest groups which are opposed to any transport scheme along the proposed corridor on the mountain-side of the railway. This line will be in addition to the existing street-based trolleybus services linking these towns.
At present (June 2013) it is not known how the system's planners will solve the mismatch between their desire for the buses to operate in automatic guided mode and the fact that (so far) every attempt to introduce this style of operation has failed, due to its inability to work well enough to achieve safety certification. Perhaps events in Douai will point towards the solution.
Haifa, Israel. More France, Others...
In Haifa, Israel the Metronit BRT system is planned to include 6 hybrid Phileas buses alongside 84 locally built diesel mechanical buses on a three-route system, for which an extensive network of bus priority lanes have been built. Metronit services commenced in 2013, albeit without the Phileas buses.
The use of Phileas buses has been cited as a possibility for a BRT service linking Beuvry, Béthune, Bruay and Houdain in France. The stated reason for choosing a rubber tyred solution is a 27km busway between Beuvry and Houdain has an estimated cost of €234m whilst a 17km steel wheel tramway would cost €445m. Work on a busway linking Béthune with Bruay is scheduled for summer 2013, with construction of the rest of the route starting in 2015 and the whole scheme opening in 2018. However, with the tender for the supply of buses yet to be published (scheduled for September 2013) it may yet be that there will be a change of rolling stock, with the Exqui.City buses being used on the Mettis scheme in Metz also being seen as a possibility (see below).
Another city reported to have been looking at using Phileas buses is Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.
Bus Stop Docking Guidance - But Not Phileas.
The Italian city of Verona is planning a four route 23.8km TBRT system where the approach to the trolleybus stops (of which there are expected to be about 50) will be equipped for electromagnetic guidance to help facilitate wheelchair-friendly access with a maximum gap of 5cm (about 2"). The city council originally wanted to operate double articulated trolleybuses but the transport ministry declined this, so now the required 37 trolleybuses will be single articulated, and rather than use Phileas vehicles they will be VDL Citea trolleybuses (with Vossloh-Kiepe electrics) that have a capacity of 140 passengers.
The network will comprise of two trunk routes both of which split at each end, making four in total. Only suburban areas will be electrified, in the city centre the buses will be powered by batteries which are charged whilst travelling under the wires, although the vehicles will also have Euro 6 diesel engines which will be used as required.
A public competition to find a name for the system settled upon Opera which in addition to the musical connection is Italian for it works. The trolleybuses will also feature operatic names.
According to the Vossloh-Kiepe press release of November 2012 the system is expected to be operating in 2015.
|Artists' impression of a trolleybus Phileas in Pescara.
Image: the scheme promotors' publicity material.
|APTS Phileas 18 BZ bus No.007, reg. BZ-HR-04 in Amsterdam.
Image & license: Michaël Vejjajiva / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
|A large banner in Kiryat Eliezer, Haifa, advertising the Metronit.
Image & license: Reuvenk / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
|Example of completed BRT right of way, ready for the Metronit - and until then used by existing bus services.
Image & license: Ynhockey / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
Fuel Cell Hybrids.
The period 2008 - 2010 saw the creation (design and build) of four hydrogen fuel cell articulated Phileas buses. These are the first ever 18m fuel cell buses - previously fuel cell buses only came in non-articulated format at around 12 - 13.5 metres in length.
In September 2011 two of these entered passenger service in the Rhein-Eft area in Germany, which includes the towns of Hürth and Brühl and the well known major city of Cologne (Köln). These two buses use batteries (of an unknown type) to store the electric energy and source their hydrogen as a by-product from the local chemical industry. The other two buses are used in the Dutch city of Amsterdam and feature supercapacitors for energy storage.
"f - t - r".
In the autumn of 2004 one of the major British transport operators (FirstGroup) and a major British Isles-based bus builder (The Wright Group) announced plans for a new concept in bus travel.
Known as 'f-t-r' this heralds the introduction of a brand new UK-sourced high-tech (looking) bus which has been designed somewhat along the lines of a rubber-tyred tram and is called 'StreetCar'. At 18.75m (62ft) in length the "StreetCar" buses are slightly longer than ordinary (British) bendy buses, and feature two doorways through which passengers can board or alight.
To help create a high-quality environment for the passengers and driver they use an advanced stiffened structure to address what the automotive industry describes as NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness). However despite all the other niceties under the skin (as described below) when* they were introduced the StreetCar vehicles were still bog-standard motorbuses, being powered by a reduced-emission Volvo diesel engine and using a drivetrain based on the successful Volvo B7L model - albeit with the radiator, which is normally fitted just above the engine, having been relocated to the roof. Effectively this means that under the very sleek and sophisticated looking skin these buses are based on standard diesel bus mechanical components. So it could be said that the StreetCar buses are more of a styling exercise or a fashion statement than a genuinely innovative attempt to re-invent the motorbus as a rubber-tyred electric tram. It is understood that the people involved with the creation of the StreetCar wanted to reduce potential teething issues by using proven tried and tested mechanical components - and that the creation a hybrid electric version was under consideration. This would be most fortunate, as it would then create the possibility for conversion to 100% zero emission two - wire electric (ie: trolleybus) operation.
*In the event a diesel hybrid version with an electric drivetrain was produced, but only for export.
Inside the StreetCar passengers benefit from a choice of conventional seating, perches to provide support for those who prefer to stand, a lounge-style area at the rear and open standing areas for people making short journeys. To help to reduce solar gain there are tinted, double-glazed windows. To create a pleasant draught-free environment the windows are sealed and instead the vehicles feature a sophisticated heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system. Both the passengers and the pilot (as with aircraft StreetCar drivers are is known as "pilots") should also benefit from the noise absorption materials which have been fitted throughout the vehicle, providing what are described as new levels of sound-proofing. To further help create a modern ambiance there is concealed lighting, backed up by LED spotlights. Accepting that people do drop litter, the interior has also been designed with ease of cleaning as a high priority. Real-time passenger information is provided by two screens and a sophisticated computerised system developed by the bus builder in conjunction with specialist third parties ensure that different systems such as CCTV, automatic vehicle location and passenger information can interact. Real-time information systems are also used to provide traffic signal priority and is clever enough to be able to do this only if the StreetCars are running late.
As with trams, but unusually for a bus, the StreetCars feature totally-enclosed full-width driving compartments separated from the passengers by a full-height partition with tinted glazing. The pilots’ workstation features ergonomically-designed controls. StreetCars feature deep front windscreens, to give the pilot a good view of the road ahead. A public address system allows two-way communication between pilot and passengers.
f-t-r is more than just vehicles. The design brief for the f-t-r system was / is to create a new idiom in British bus transport by merging "the best from the bus in terms of affordability, accessibility and flexibility with the best from the tram in terms of image, dedicated infrastructure and perceived reliability." The concepts designers took "an integrated approach, tackling issues such as frequency, service quality, ticketing, vehicle design, infrastructure, engineering and route management." Passengers using 'f-t-r' services (bus routes) are encouraged to buy tickets off-vehicle - for instance some types of travel tickets can be bought at local shops which are part of the "PayPoint" system, and using the M-Ticket system 10 ride tickets can be texted to pre-registered mobile phones. These are displayed as barcodes so that they can "read" and validated on boarding the StreetCar buses. Cash fares can also be bought from the on-board ticket machines, however these only accept the exact money (ie: do not give change) and fares paid with cash are slightly higher than the other payment options.
f-t-r has a stated aim of attracting 10% of car journeys off the roads its serves within five to six years - increasing public transport usage on those same corridors by 30%.
It is conceivable that in time f-t-r services using the StreetCar buses could be rolled out to any and many of the British towns and cities where the FirstGroup operates bus services
At a glitzy razzmatazz public launch in March 2005 it was announced that the first 11 of the £200,000 (the price then) vehicles will be delivered to the city of York in January 2006 and will run on route No.4, which travels on the route from the University to Acomb via the main railway station. After training, etc., passenger services began in May 2006.
Whilst the StreetCar buses have certainly "turned heads" the much hoped-for gloss has been tarnished by teething issues. Perhaps the most significant of these has revolved around the ticketing system - as mentioned above it is understood that the people involved with the creation of the StreetCar wanted to reduce potential teething issues by using tried, tested, and proven viable components, but for a bus where paying the driver was a physical impossibility something different had to be devised.
Unfortunately whilst the adopted solutions could and should have been successful its implementation was less than beneficial. Part of the problem was local dismay at the flat fare of £1.50 instead of the graduated fares of £1, £1.50 and £2 that the bus company charged on most of its other services in York. However also a significant cause for complaint was the slowness of the ticket issuing process. It seems that the single ticket vending machines located behind the Pilot were very slow and at busy bus stops the queue of passengers waiting to pay often extended on to the footpath - delaying the services as if they were "pay driver" buses. Whilst some off-vehicle ticket sales were available for period tickets a far better solution would have been to adopt the well proven European system whereby local shops sell single and discounted multi-ride tickets which can be validated using separate readers fitted on the buses (near the doorways) which are independent of the ticket machine. Alternatively the busiest bus stops could have been equipped with ticket machines, although it is understood that because of vandalism and theft issues there was a desire to avoid street-based ticket machines.
Another gripe was that the ticket machines only took exact money - they neither accepted paper money nor gave change. When a couple with a £5.00 note wanted to travel they were unable to do so as they had no way of paying. At the university bus stop a lady was overheard telling her friends and relatives who had come for her graduation that these buses were
"an absolute nightmare - you can only go on them if you have exact change."Whether the same lady would use a car park "pay & display" machine that also refuses to give change is not known. In October 2006 some media reports were suggesting that FirstGroup officials had recognised that the ticket machines seem to have proven to be f-t-r's Achilles Heel and were even considering replacing them with (human) conductors on a full-time basis. Unoffical briefing also suggested that an unexpected 'problem' was the variability in boarding times depending on the proportion of passengers with passes or paying cash.
In May 2007 it was announced that 20 customer service hosts (aka: 'bus conductors') would be recruited to replace the disliked ticket vending machines. This puts the York StreetCar on par with several of the British tram systems which also use human conductors instead of machines to collect the fares.
Not evenings / Sundays.
In the spring of 2009 it was announced that as a cost saving measure, during the evenings (after 7pm / 19.00) and all day Sundays and public holidays f-t-r services in York would be operated by conventional buses which consume less fuel and can be operated without the added cost of the bus conductor.
|StreetCar buses outside York station.|
|ftr bus stop flag.||The StreetCar buses feature wide twin leaf plug doors which, at the front of the bus, open to a circulating area and the ticket machine. Seen outside York station with its decorative flower planters|
|A passenger's eye view from the rear section looking forwards. On the articulation top bulkhead and to the right of the vehicle number (ftr 19011) can be seen one of the two passenger information display screens plus (in the larger image) the "stopping" message indicating that the bus has been requested to call at the next bus stop.||The "better bus" theme even extends to the ceiling with diffused fluorescent lighting and fashionable LED downlights.|
|Rear looking internal view showing how the low floor only partially extends towards the back of the bus, plus some overseas tourists who were happy to be photographed sitting on the sideways facing seats opposite the rear doorway.||Forward looking internal view showing the pushchair / wheelchair space on the left. On the right the white square on the Pilot's cab bulkhead is actually one of the two passenger information display screens.|
Earlier than expected British expansion...
|StreetCar bus on route No.4 in Leeds City centre.||StreetCar bus on the train2plane service. The white trees seen in the background do not represent a new tree species but are because despite the bright sunshine it was a freezing cold day and there was a day frost.|
StreetCar buses on the train2plane service at Luton Airport Parkway railway station.
Because of the higher cost (and quality) of the StreetCar buses, the introduction of these buses on this airport shuttle resulted in fares being introduced on the previously free service, although as a concession railway passengers benefit from discounted rates.
Three of the StreetCar buses were later redeployed in Swansea, leaving just one StreetCar bus in Luton. In their place some Mercedes Citaro buses have been introduced to this service.
The Swansea Metro (Metro Abertawe).
In Swansea f-t-r services are being marketed as the Swansea Metro (Metro Abertawe in the Welsh language). Costing £14 million this is the first f-t-r service to include sections of specially built private right of way in addition to bus lanes, shared use of the public highway - including High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes - plus, where required, other bus priority measures. This includes the Landore Express Bus Route. Located just to the north of the railway station this specially built bus-only road is about a mile in length. To ensure that only permitted vehicles are able to enter it is fully enclosed. On one side the busway runs alongside the railway, whilst on the other side there is a walkway / cycleway which is physically separated from the busway by a high fence. At both ends opening gates allow permitted buses to enter / leave. These include StreetCar buses and buses from certain other bus services, such as a park+ride service.
The Swansea Metro is a partnership between the City & County of Swansea and First Cymru Buses. Its creation was funded by the Welsh Assembly Government and the European Objective One programme. With the StreetCar buses ready for delivery (for staff training) in late 2007 public services were originally expected to commence in 2008, but delays with the roadway works (which included the creation of "quality bus stops" complete with shelters) saw the scheme being delayed until mid 2009. The first StreetCar bus entered service on 1st June with the rest of the 10-vehicle fleet (nine for regular services plus one spare) entered service "one at a time" over a period of weeks. In September 2009 there was a formal opening ceremony. Curiously, as with York and Leeds the Swansea Metro service just happens to be No.4 in the local bus numbering scheme. It will be left for people with an interest in numerology to investigate the significance of this.
In keeping with the bi-lingual status of Wales, all signage is in both English and Welsh, although being in South Wales the English language is usually displayed first.
Not evenings / Sundays.
As with York in Swansea the use of StreetCar buses is to be restricted to weekday and Saturday daytimes, with single person operated buses used at other times.
|Passing through the electrically powered gates to leave the "Landore Express Bus Route".||In the city centre the Swansea Metro benefits from a true BRT style private right of way which is restricted to only buses and permit holders.|
The Swansea Metro includes some light rail style stops with modern shelters and (at some locations) dedicated bus priority traffic signals too. In some countries (eg: Holland, Switzerland) buses sometimes follow similar style dedicated signals as the trams, however in this image we see that they have been provided with a green pictogram of a single-deck bus.
At the time several other British cities were reported to also be interested in f-t-r services and StreetCar buses, however as ever what happens next (and where) depends as much upon on finance as anything else.
In October 2007 the Department for Transport was reported to have given tentative approval for a transport improvement package for the city of Bath which would include the use of an unknown number of StreetCar buses on an a BRT scheme which would take over a closed railway line, with 10 other local bus routes also being improved (more frequent services, better shelters, accessibility, real-time information at some stops, etc) but still using ordinary buses. However, this scheme now seems to have been shelved.
For more information visit...
What the f-t-r concept lacks.
For all its merits and attempts to be like a rubber-tyred light rail vehicle in its initial form the StreetCar buses and f-t-r concept avoided one of the most appreciated features of light rail, ie: instead of tail pipes emitting noxious exhaust fumes they are electrically powered. However thanks to a professional CAD (computer aided design) draughtsman from the Electric Tbus Group - www.tbus.org.uk (external link opens in a new window) one StreetCar bus has become much more city (and environmentally) friendly. Indeed, a f-t-r TBRT (Trolleybus Rapid Transit) system would be just the ticket for many British urban areas.
Trolleybuses, electric buses, air pollution and why so called "cleaner" diesel (aka "less dirty") buses could be worse that buses which give off visible smoke are looked at on the Electric Buses page.
The StreetCar goes to the USA (and Canada).
In June 2006 it was announced that the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Southern Nevada is to purchase 50 StreetCar buses, with two further options each for an additional 50 buses. These would be used on two new Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) routes serving downtown Las Vegas and out to Boulder City.
Known as 'StreetCar RTV' (Rapid Transit Vehicle) these buses feature the same core vehicle design as the initial batch of British StreetCars, but use a chassis produced by Swiss manufacturer Hess plus a diesel hybrid drive system based on a Cummins ISL engine developed in conjunction with the ISE Corporation of California and Siemens Energy & Automation in Georgia.
A Swansea Metro StreetCar which has been converted to
100% electric traction (and painted blue rather than purple).
Image modified by a professional CAD (computer aided design)
draughtsman from the Electric Tbus Group - www.tbus.org.uk
Inside the StreetCar RTV.
|Images: the vehicle manufacturers' publicity material. http://www.wrightbus.com/site/default.asp?CATID=49
NB: this page includes some very large images (over 9mb each).
The StreetCar RTV.
Note that whilst the British StreetCar buses feature two pair of passenger doorways per vehicle the RTV version features three pair of passenger doorways.
Services using 50 StreetCar buses in Las Vegas began in March 2010. Two routes are served - ACE Gold Line and ACExpress - with the buses being painted in a distinctive gold and blue livery.
These are being operated as true high-quality BRT services, featuring facilities such as prepaid ticketing from vending machines (through a system known as Ticket Now), limited stop service, dedicated bus-only lanes, and bus stops with level-platform boarding.
It took just a fortnight for the new services to be exceeding ridership expectations, with them carrying over 30,000 people per day - this being far in excess of the original estimations of the originally predicted 4,000 - 6,000 passengers a day.
Also in 2010 one of the Las Vegas StreetCar RTV buses was demonstrated in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada as a possible choice of vehicle for a projected rapid transit system which will use either buses or light rail.
Updates - Redeployment: Bye Bye York.
In early 2012 it was announced that the 11 StreetCar buses being used in York would be removed from that city and redeployed elsewhere. Possible reasons include a feeling by the bus operator that the local council had not done enough to upgrade the roadway along the route to justify a BRT style vehicle and that some local people felt that articulated buses were too long for some of the roads they served.
In October 2012 the Streetcar buses which had been operating on route No. 4 in both Leeds and York began a second life on route No. 72 which links the cities of Leeds and Bradford and is marketed under the name of Hyperlink. Prior to commencing service the StreetCar buses destined for the Hyperlink service were given a £400,000 refresh which included fitted them with leather seating and repainting them in a new eye catching dark blue livery. To make travelling on Hyperlink both easier and more attractive passengers are offered free wi-fi and in addition to the existing local and regional tickets there is also a new dedicated multi-ride Hyperlink ticketing system which is primarily aimed at attracting less frequent travellers.
Hyperlink was developed in conjunction with the local governments of Leeds and Bradford, plus with Metro - the West Yorkshire Public Transport Executive (PTE). Local council involvement included changes to street infrastructure on the route. The new ticketing system includes the introduction of carnet tickets which offer 6 journeys for £12 or 10 journeys for £18. Known as 6Link and 10Link, these tickets are valid for 3 months, after which they expire. Although not stated it seems that after this time the value of any unused rides is lost. Carnet tickets can be bought onboard from the Hyperlink host (ie: bus conductor).
It might be wondered exactly how the StreetCar and f-t-r concept came about... the following tale is an urban legend, based on comments gleaned from various online sources, but believed to be mostly if not 100% accurate...
It is said that at a "chance" meeting between the then govt. transport secretary (The Rt. Hon. Alaister Darling) and the Chief Executive of a transport operator the transport secretary was bemoaning the fact that so many people want trams which he thought were simply too expensive (even though quality items are rarely cheap - and sometimes the cost of not investing is even higher [dearer] than the cost of making the investment) so between them the two men used the back of an envelope to list what they thought were the primary positive features of trams which could be transferred to buses.
Even so, with (apparently) just 39 StreetCar buses having ever been built for British services these vehicles do not (yet) seem to have enjoyed the wide acclaim that might have been expected.
In 2011 a French company named Safra introduced a new design of innovatively styled 10 metre easy-access bus. Called Businova this vehicle redefines the visual aesthetics of midi buses.
10 metres long, 2.5 metres high and weighing 10 tons, this bus features a passenger module that has a capacity of 90 passengers (albeit with just 15 seats) and an energy module located in an articulated section that includes the rear axle and is located under the elevated rear section of the passenger saloon. The low-floor front area of the chassis allows for easy access. The idea behind the articulated rear section is to shield passengers from as much (engine) noise and vibration as possible, plus make it easy to incorporate changes as technology changes.
The propulsion system is also new, with this concept vehicle being described by its designers as a multi-hybrid. The lithium-ion battery powered electric motor is assisted by a hydraulic regenerative braking system (which starts the vehicle from rest). There is also a 1.6 litre diesel engine which is only used as required.
|Front left three-quarter view.||Rear right three-quarter view.|
|From the back looking forwards.||From the front looking backwards.|
In order to gain as much light as possible, the Businova's roof features several skylights which use electro-chromic opaque glass (ie: glass which has an electric current running through it) so that the opacity and luminosity can be adjusted to achieve the desired interior level of light. This will also help optimise the air conditioning and the associated energy consumption of the vehicle.
The rear section has been described as being like a glass rotunda.
Images: The Businova website - http://www.businova.com/en/home/welcome.htm
At some stage in 2014 this prototype vehicle is scheduled to commence 8 months of trials in the French City of Toulouse.
In 2011 the Belgian bus builder Van Hool introduced a range of tram-buses called Exqui.City.
Exqui.City is available in two lengths - an 18.6 metre single articulated version and a 23.8 metre double (bi) articulated version. Both versions feature an aerodynamic design, an enclosed drivers cab with central driving position, a distinctive tram-style sloping front and on the longer versions a sloping back. Passengers benefit from easy boarding through four pairs of outward sliding doors, large double glazed windows which help make the vehicle feel light and airy inside. a high comfort level, air-conditioning, low noise and soft LED lighting.
Depending on which of the pre-set internal layouts is chosen the single articulated version can seat 29, 35 or 44 passengers whilst the double articulated version can seat 28, 42 or 61 passengers. Wheelchair users have a dedicated space opposite the front doors which also feature a manual ramp.
Fitted with an electric drive system as standard Exqui.City buses are available with a range of prime power source technologies, including diesel-hybrid, traditional twin wire overhead (ie: electric trolleybus), battery / inductive charging, CNG and fuel cell.
By June 2013 5 different cities had chosen to include a total of 92 Exqui.City's in their bus fleets. The list below is in alphabetical order.
|A Luxembourg Exqui.City 24 double articulated bus on route No.16.
Image & license: Occitandu34 / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain.
|A Parma Equi.City single articulated trolleybus
on demonstration in Geneva.
In early summer 2013 Barcelona became the first city to place an Exqui.City bus into public service. This is on an 11km cross-city service, the H12, which is served by a mixture of 19 Mercedes-Benz Citaro and Iveco CityClass CNG powered single-articulated buses. Although the route is mostly straight there are locations where the Exqui.City's steering rear axle aids manoeuvrability. In Barcelona the front pair of doors are being reserved for entry and the rear pair for exit. For safety the bus driver has CCTV displays which show the doorways, when the bus is moving these switch to showing external views. Passenger benefits include the usual (in Barcelona) display screens showing diagrams indicating the next bus stops (plus adverts and local transport information) and audible next stop announcements in Catalan, Spanish and English. For Barcelona the three Exqui.City buses represent a trial, not just with these vehicles but also with double-articulated vehicles of any type. Initial reactions from passengers has been positive, with many also reaching for their (smartphone) cameras so that they can tell their friends about the new tram styled bus!
Geneva's Exqui.City buses feature two powered axles which makes them more suited to difficult weather conditions on steeply graded routes where fairly large differences in height are encountered over short distances. In recent years Geneva has invested heavily in expanding its steel-wheel tram system, and also very successfully operates a multi-route trolleybus network which includes some double-articulated trolley buses (and double-articulated motor buses). The new Exqui.City buses will allow it to replace some older trolleybuses in a way that further raises the already high quality image of their electric buses. This is being done as part of a citywide policy of reducing urban air pollution by expanding the use of electric street transports and reducing the use of diesel buses.
Parma's Exqui.City AG300T TRL trolleybuses were chosen by local transport operator TEP (Tranvie Elettriche Parmensi) and were partly funded by the European Union's Trolley project which aims to help urban areas reduce urban air pollution through the use of electric trolleybuses. The vehicles have a 240kW Skoda electric motor which drives the central axle and use roof-mounted Maxwell supercapacitors for regenerative braking. For off-wire use there is also an 118 kW Iveco N40ENT 426 diesel engine and a 110 kVA Kirsch PME 250/4 water-cooled generator. The fuel tank holds 200 litres.
The first Exqui.City bus arrived in Parma in April 2012, and being something new has been undergoing extensive testing such as is usually required for new transports to achieve
homologation* before they can enter passenger service.
On Tuesday 21st January the first of Geneva's Exqui.City trolleybuses entered public service. According to media reports the Parma Exqui.City trolleybuses still await their homologation. There is a problem - it seems that there might have been an oversight when the vehicles were ordered, because they are longer than the 18 metres which the vehicle regulations permit. What is more, there is no legal basis for the granting of a dispensation for overlength trolleybuses.
|A plum coloured Metz Mettis Equi.City 24 bus showing the special front end that was designed for this city.
Image & license: Bava Alcide57 / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
|One of the orange coloured Metz Mettis Equi.City 24 buses.
Image & license: Occitandu34 / Wikipedia encyclopædia. Public Domain
Mettis in Metz
In Metz the Exqui.City buses operate on a 17.8km two-route system which has been branded as Mettis. Linking Woippy with Borny, Line A is 12.5km long and features 26 stations. Linking the island of Saulcy with the Technology Park and then Hospital Mercy of CHR Metz-Thionville, Line B is 11km long and features 21 stations. The route through the centre of Metz is served by both lines and includes 10 stations. Destinations served include the railway station and the Centre Pompidou-Metz.
Mettis is a true BRT scheme with much dedicated bus lanes and priority at traffic lights. It uses 26 double-articulated Exqui.City buses which are 23.8 metres in length and feature a special Mettis front and rear design. Propulsion comes from the series type of hybrid traction whereby a diesel engine charges onboard batteries which power the electric traction motors. The driver's cab is isolated from the passenger compartment and tickets must be purchased in advance of travelling. This might be from ticket machines at stations, or other sources . The buses can carry 150 passengers. The purchase contract for the buses includes an option for 9 more, if needed.
Included in the bus variants which were not selected for Metz was the Phileas bus, as is used in Douai.
Metz is very close to Nancy, which uses the TVR part-time guided trolleybus and it is possible that some people who live in Nancy will be watching events here with interest.
Mettis buses are being painted in four distinctive colours, orange, plum, green and blue.
For security reasons CCTV surveillance cameras are located at bus stops, P+R car parks, many locations along the two bus routes and inside the buses.
Green and blue liveried Metz Mettis Equi.City 24 buses.
Image & license (both images): Agora midr / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0
(green) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mettis_ligne_B.JPG (blue) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mettis_ligne_A.JPG
Superbuses In Sweden
In a joint venture between the City of Malmö, Nobina and Skånetrafiken, June 2014 is scheduled to see the openings of Sweden's first BRT service. This BRT system is also an EU project so also benefits from some funding from the Delegation for Sustainable Cities and the European Regional Development Fund. (Nobina is a multinational public transport operator, Skånetrafiken is a public transport co-ordinator which serves 10 towns and cities in the Skåne region of Sweden).
Promoted as superbuses, the fleet of 15 double-articulated Exqui.City vehicles will benefit from special bus lanes and traffic signal priority.
The series type of hybrid drivetrain sees the onboard batteries which power the electric traction motors being charged by 6.9-litre, 280-horsepower MAN Truck & Bus
Euro6-compliant E0836 LOH-04 engines which are powered by biogas / CNG (compressed natural gas) rather than diesel. This is the first time that CNG has been selected as the
primary fuel source for the Exqui.City buses. More information on the motive power package of the Swedish Exqui.City buses can be found at this link which will open in a new window:
In November 2013 contracts were signed for a 13.9km / 18 station BRT system in Martinique which will use 14 of the double articulated Exqui.City 24 buses.
Martinique's buses will feature the METTIS design front and rear ends.
They will be have a pearl grey base colour but each vehicle will also host easily changed coloured adhesive films that extend along their sides above and below the windows.
The colours to be used are: fuchsia, red chilli, papaya, pineapple, green pepper, turquoise, indigo.
Only one of these colours will be used per bus, but to add variety it will be expressed in five shades ranging from light to dark.
Services are expected to commence in 2015.
This graphic showing an artists' impression of a pineapple coloured bus also demonstrates how the coloured wraps will be used.
A "Better Buses" Footnote.
All of the transports shown on this page follow the theme of "better buses". To achieve this part of the ethos has been to use designers to create something which looks "different" and / or "distinctive".
The buses seen below come from Hannover in Germany and are also very innovatively styled.
Unfortunately at present it is not possible to offer a video clip of one of these buses - which is most unfortunate - because under the skin they are still traditional motor buses, as very quickly becomes apparent as soon as one pulls away from the bus stop.
The transport industry and politicians need to remember that it is the combination of the "roar" of the fossil fuel engine - no matter how it is fuelled (mineral diesel, biodiesel, CNG, LPG, ethanol, etc.,) - and their harmful exhaust fumes which are the important features that distinguish a motor bus from an electric tram or trolleybus - for the wrong reasons.
|Very distinctively styled but still motor buses in Hannover, Germany.
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