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Downtown Milwaukee is undergoing a rebirth. With more than 100 new developments across the city’s core, pivotal construction projects are reshaping the skyline of a city that, like many in the Great Lakes region, suffered severe industrial decline in the later 20th Century.
Although it is home to Harley-Davidson motorcycles and international brewery names such as Miller (as well as a strong microbrewery scene), median incomes that were once amongst the highest in the US have fallen dramatically in recent decades. From the late 1960s, globalisation forced major factories to close and the population went into sharp decline – from a peak of around 741 000 to 572 000 just three decades later according to official census data.
The arrival of the first stage of the city’s modern streetcar project on 2 November is another sign that the green shoots of recovery are taking a firm hold. The initial 3.2km (2.1 miles) of ‘The Hop, presented by Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’, to give the system its full and proper name, marks the culmination of more than 20 years of persistent lobbying by dedicated local politicians and business groups. A 320m extension is planned to open in 2020 to take the route to within a short walk of the redesigned Lake Michigan lakefront.
Commercial and residential developments recently completed or under construction in the city total over USD3bn in inward investment, creating much-needed jobs. The Hop is seen as a catalyst for this renewal and has resulted from city policies to reinvent local economies, supporting employment policies for publicly-funded projects that encourage the hiring of unemployed local residents to close the income gap.
It was apt then that the ribbon-cutting in Cathedral Square Park was performed with due ceremony by long-time streetcar advocate and fourth-term Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett, a man credited by many as the architect of this revitalisation by working from the core outwards – restarting the heart of a once-mighty Great Lakes powerhouse.
The first two cars, filled with dignitaries, left Cathedral Square Park in opposite directions to tour the system with public service beginning an hour later.
The new line connects the Intermodal Station – a combined railway and long-distance bus ‘gateway’ to the city, used by more than 1.3 million passengers each year – the Historic Third Ward and Milwaukee Public Market, the Central Business District, the Lake Michigan Lakefront, and the high-density neighbourhoods of the Lower East Side. The Intermodal Station opened in 2007, replacing a dilapidated 1960s structure, with a new USD22m passenger concourse and train shed added in June 2016.
The Hop will be fare-free for the first year thanks to a USD10m sponsorship deal signed with the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino that will support the operating costs of the line. As one of the largest entertainment complexes in Wisconsin, as well as a major employer in the downtown area, the CEO of the Native American-owned complex emphasised the importance of the streetcar at the signing of the 12-year deal in October 2017, saying that it is “committed to investing in the rebirth of Milwaukee”. It is understood that when fares are introduced they will be USD1.
Milwaukee is the largest city in the State of Wisconsin, close to the Canadian Border. Although not the state capital – that title is held by Madison, some 130km (80 miles) to the west – Milwaukee is by far the largest city in the state, counting a population more than double that of Madison.
Horse-drawn streetcars first came to the city in 1860, although the service was not quite the success story seen in other cities and it was not until 1890 that gradual electrification began, completed by the mid-1900s. Electrification brought expansion and expansion brought popularity, peaking in the early 1920s with more than 20 routes plus a number of interurban lines. This was when competition from the motor car and bus gained momentum which, as with most other US systems, led to the eventual decline and closure of the first-generation streetcar in March 1958.
By the early 1990s the city fathers took the opportunity to re-examine the path to growth and expansion, realising that there was a danger of urban streets becoming gridlocked with motor traffic. After much soul searching and lobbying – and a cancelled USD289m plan for an east-west bus corridor from downtown to Waukesha around 32km (20 miles) to the west that bequeathed a significant sum to the future streetcar plan – a rail-based solution emerged as the preferred option. In 1997 business lobbying organisation Milwaukee Downtown Bid #21 threw its considerable influence behind the streetcar project (CEO Beth Weirick acted as Master of Ceremonies for the opening), giving further momentum to the plans.
A guided bus scheme launched in 2005 offered a two-route system on segregated lanes from downtown to Miller Park, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the north side of the city. But this failed to pass muster, with Mayor Tom Barrett vetoing the USD300m scheme in May of the following year, citing too many ‘unanswered questions’ over local and federal funding contributions and the application of the technology.
He subsequently unveiled more detailed plans for a modern streetcar in 2008, identifying an initial route between the Intermodal Station and the Central Business District to serve the greatest numbers of residents along an alignment that also provided significant opportunities for economic regeneration. This ‘starter line’ would complement existing bus routes, especially the major bus corridor along Wisconsin Ave, as part of a grand vision for a future network to cover the whole city.
In 2015, authority was given for the first line, with a short spur to the lakefront, with project management handled by a partnership of streetcar specialists HNTB and HDR. Kiewit Infrastructure Co. was awarded the USD60m contract for construction in 2016, with works beginning later that year. An order was also placed with Pennsylvania-based Brookville Equipment Corporation for five double-ended Liberty vehicles equipped to run both by drawing power from the overhead at 750V dc by means of a pantograph and from
roof-mounted lithium-ion batteries.
Main works were completed in early 2018, but it was not until June that the system was handed over so that driver training and other preparations could begin under a five-year contract with Transdev to operate the system on behalf of the City of Milwaukee. By this time Brookville had handed over two of the cars with a third delivered a month later. All five were delivered in good time for the opening.
Riding The Hop
The initial alignment, designated as the M line, starts opposite the Intermodal Station and the car barn is located underneath the freeway just beyond the stop. The location was chosen to help protect the cars from the harsh Milwaukee winters; the City has contracted with Brookville to maintain the fleet.
From here it proceeds along St Paul Avenue and crosses the Milwaukee River via the St Paul Avenue bridge. This unusual steel table lift bridge rises vertically but not high enough to foul the overhead and was refurbished in a major USD9m scheme between September 2013 and June 2014. There are only five such table lift bridges used by streetcars in the USA with two in San Francisco and two in Portland.
Shortly after crossing the bridge the alignment enters the Historic Third Ward district with its bars and retail centres, before turning north on Milwaukee Street; the return southbound route is on Broadway. At Kilbourn Avenue the route turns east, passing the Cathedral Square Park where the opening ceremony took place. The pantograph is dropped at this point as cars enter the battery-operated section which continues north onto Jackson Street. After turning east onto Ogden Avenue the wired section begins again. Three substations along the route supply power at 750V dc.
The line continues to the single-track terminus at Burns Common close to the lakefront. Apart from at the termini and in the one-way segments the alignment is all laid to standard-gauge double-track, with battery operation on around a third of the route with the vehicles’ lithium-ion battery packs recharged from the overhead in the wired sections.
Streetcars operate every 15 minutes at peak periods and 20 minutes at other times, seven days a week. There are 18 stops on The Hop, each equipped with shelters, seating and fare and schedule information. All stops are wheelchair-accessible.
To the Lakefront by 2020
When the L line to the lakefront opens in 2020 it will be operated as a separate route.
Starting at the Waterfront, in front of Discovery World on North Lincoln Memorial Drive, the new route will turn west on Clybourn Street before joining the existing northbound alignment on Milwaukee Street. At Kilbourn Street the route turns west and returns south on Broadway. It will then follow the existing alignment south to St Pauls Avenue where it will turn east and north again on Milwaukee. It will then turn east on Michigan Street to return to the Waterfront. Three new stations will be added to the system and around two-thirds of the route will be unwired.
The five double-ended low-floor Liberty streetcars are 20.6m long with capacity to carry 150 passengers, 32 seated and with additional wheelchair spaces. The design features two double-leaf doors in the centre section for swift boarding and alighting.
The Liberty has become something of an emblem of the resurgence of the urban streetcar in the US, with over USD150m in orders since its launch at the start of the decade. The 70% low-floor vehicle is now in service in Dallas, Detroit, Milwaukee and Oklahoma, and further orders have been placed by Tempe, AZ, Seattle, WA and Portland, OR. The City of Milwaukee placed its USD18.6m order in November 2015.
The Liberty has also won a number of awards for its design, including the Technical Innovation of the Year at the Global Light Rail Awards in October 2015.
What of the future?
The first weeks of operation showed promising ridership figures, averaging almost 2200 passengers per day in the opening month. This has exceeded the city’s expectations, with initial projections put at 1850 passengers/day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the data from the opening weekend was impressive too, with more than 16 000 people choosing to sample the return of street-running light rail in the opening days.
Speaking to TAUT, Mayor Barrett described the system as a “game-changer” for the city. Proud of what has been achieved to date, he explained that this is just the first stage of a much-larger system planned to cut automobile-related congestion and pollution within the city. He added that he is often asked by city residents when the streetcar is coming to their neighbourhood. His reply is always the same: “As soon as we can get it there. This is just the beginning”.
Plans are already in place for significant expansion beyond 2020. The most advanced is a double-track extension with an additional three stops from the Intermodal Station along Vel R.Phillips Avenue to the impressive new USD526m Fiserv Forum sports arena and entertainment complex that opened in August 2018. This 1.2km (0.75-mile) northern projection is seen as being the significant link to the Westtown area.
The city has already approved half of the USD40m funding for the line through Tax Incremental Financing, and had hoped it would be successful in its December 2018 bid for US Department of Transportation BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) funding to cover the other half. One additional Liberty vehicle would be required for this extension.
BUILD is the replacement for the TIGER grant funding programme and is designed to fund transport projects that have a significant local or regional impact in underpinning growth and regeneration. Sadly, The Hop extension wasn’t one of the 15 projects selected for BUILD funding in December and ideas that the DoT funds would allow construction to permit a 2020 opening now look unlikely. But the city that has fought so hard for its streetcar foothold hasn’t given up hope of securing federal finance. Far from it, in fact.
Speaking to local media after receiving the news in December, Mayor Barrett said: “I’ve seen this before – and I don’t mean this in a sarcastic way. When we did the lakefront expansion, it took several swings of the bat. There will be another round after this, and we will continue to seek those federal dollars.”
Further lines are on the drawing board, although – as always – the biggest hurdle is funding. Early plans show a network north and south of the downtown area and possibly even a north-eastern extension from the current Burns Common terminus. Options exist with Brookville for another 20 Liberty streetcars to support these ambitions.
Article originally appeared in TAUT 974 (February 2019).
How often have you heard that it is too difficult to build a tramway in Great Britain? This is the country that invented both railways and street tramways, yet these days it seems to take forever to get a new project started, whereas they just get on with it in France and Germany. You only have to look at how many have been built in Europe since the 1960s, adding to those first-generation networks that were never lost – yet the UK has only seven tram systems and two light metros.
Another ‘fact’ bandied around is that it is much more expensive to build a tramway or light rail scheme in the UK. Edinburgh and the recent extensions in Nottingham are cited as examples, said by some to be two to three times the price of a system built in mainland Europe. However a study undertaken for UKTram has demonstrated that this is not the case and that most British costs are on a par with the European norms when you compare apples with pommes und äpfel.
Compared with our European colleagues, there are differences in the way the UK plans and approves new infrastructure and manages the impacts on the local population. This article will look at the choices available for new transport systems, as well as the essential processes that need to be completed before a new system can be brought into service.
Scoping a new transport service
The most important question, and one that is all too often overlooked, is ‘what is the transport need?’ This is what should determine the most appropriate transport mode for any given scenario. This may sound elementary, but so many times this is brushed under the carpet because an enthusiast says, ‘We NEED a tram on this route’. In this scenario, ‘we need’ is actually ‘I want’, without much study or justification. Fortunately, such fantasies are usually ignored and only those with a real transport case proceed.
Where a transport problem can be demonstrated or an opportunity created through residential or commercial developments, it is time to undertake a study. Experience shows that where a development is planned alongside a new transport link both can succeed; just look at London’s Docklands area.
Having identified a potential need, it is time to gauge demand to select the most appropriate transport mode. Modelling techniques give a prediction of demand and growth over time. Modest flows may only justify an infrequent bus service, whereas for 3000 passengers per hour per direction you may be able to present a good case for a tramway. As we approach 10 000 passengers/hour/direction you are likely to be looking at a segregated metro.
The transport case forms the basis of the overall business case, which looks at the financial and wider economic benefits against the installation and running costs. Where fare revenue covers operating costs and also services the construction debt, there is a financial case and this could be left to market investors to provide. Often though, the operational costs can be covered by fares but the debt cannot, and this is where the wider economic case is required to justify the investment of public money and any ongoing subsidy.
Planning a new tramway
A commercial developer with a good financial case could propose to build and operate a tramway without public subsidy. If the land required can be purchased or leased by private treaty and any interference with rights of way is agreed with the appropriate authorities, then planning permission may be considered adequate, particularly for a tourist service with limited opening times.
This method is rarely followed for a commercial service however, as there are many reasons to pursue an Order under the Transport and Works Act 1992 (TWAO) to gain authority to build and operate such a tramway (in Scotland these powers are gained via the passing of a ‘Scottish Act’ through the Holyrood Parliament).
If public money is required, a TWAO would be required for the protection of public investment. A TWAO can grant powers such as compulsory land purchase, the creation of byelaws, blocking or interrupting public and private rights of way, interference with utilities, and a statutory defence against ‘Actions in Nuisance’ as it would give the tramway Statutory Undertaker Status.
Before applying for a TWAO, or indeed planning permission, a considerable number of ‘processes’ need to be completed, documents prepared and consultations undertaken. Both routes are likely to lead to a planning inquiry as, except for the smallest of projects, objections can be expected which are unlikely to be resolved without a public hearing.
These processes are often considered to be barriers, as they can take a considerable time to work through and cost substantial amounts of money, with an uncertain outcome. The preparation for a TWAO will involve the management of most matters considered as a ‘barrier’.
To ask the question then – are there really barriers preventing British cities or city regions from building a tramway? Merseyside and South Hampshire would say ‘yes’ after the then-Transport Secretary Alistair Darling cancelled both schemes (in 2005). That was in a climate of rising prices and fiscal restraint. Since then, only Edinburgh’s tramway has been built from scratch and some existing systems have been extended or refurbished. The real success of these projects, and demonstrable love the travelling public show their trams, should show politicians that where ridership levels are right, tramways should be considered a prime option as part of an integrated transport plan, rather than an expensive and unaffordable luxury.
Finding a ‘champion’
To get a new tramway off the starting blocks it is important to have a ‘champion’ who can negotiate their way through local and central government scepticism and process. This champion will need to have forethought and perseverance to succeed, and history shows it takes many years to gain agreement to even start the processes. The champion will need to guide the proposal through hoops and over hurdles, and stop it becoming bogged down in the waiting bureaucracy.
The fundamental problem with creating a new system in a city where none currently exists is that it will be seen as unaffordable; and it will be argued that the same quality of service can be provided by road transport, which seemingly can achieve the required outcome at a fraction of the price. Thus, the first barrier is in finding funds for an initial feasibility study with an outline transport and business case. The UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) provides guidance in these areas called WebTAG, and this is used to gauge the Value for Money of the options studied. Many tram supporters argue that WebTAG favours road transport and underestimates the value of non-cash sustainability benefits however.
Funding is another barrier that used to be simple to overcome: persuade the DfT, find some local matching finance and away you go. Since 2015 the DfT’s cash for local transport schemes has been given to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which have the role of deciding how public money should be spent according to local priorities. If the LEP does not support your proposal you have a lot of persuading to do; if it does you will still need approval from the DfT and HM Treasury.
Assuming you have the finance secured (or at least enough to develop your proposals), the next step is to apply for the Order under the TWAO. These powers used to be granted through a Private Act of Parliament; however Parliament became tired of considering these proposals and created the TWAO process instead, which is similar to that required for major road schemes.
A series of documents need to be prepared, many of which are virtually incomprehensible to the uninitiated – with one exception, the Environmental Statement. This must be written in clear English and accompanied by a ‘Non-Technical Summary’ that considers and describes all impacts of the proposal and where they can be mitigated.
Anybody can support a TWAO application, and anyone can object. If objectors cannot be satisfied, there is usually a public inquiry. A consultation period takes place before the inquiry where the promoter should discuss the reasons for the proposals with all objectors, and perhaps come to some agreement (financial, if appropriate). While many promoters see this compensation as a major cost, it may be cheaper in the long term than fighting objections and potentially losing at significant further expense.
The granting of a TWAO and Statutory Undertaker Status will in time be financially and legally beneficial. In particular, the ability to make byelaws, approved by the Secretary of State, can make such things as fare dodging a criminal offence rather than a matter for the civil courts. The Statutory Defence against ‘Actions in Nuisance’ can prevent individuals gaining injunctions preventing services from operating because, say, the noise or lights from trams disturbs the sleep of an adjacent resident. It should be noted that ‘nuisance’ does not extend to matters of safety, and this defence is not appropriate against – for example – rails making the road more slippery.
Public utility companies affected by the new tramway are almost certain to object until their interests are satisfied. Utilities have a protected right to be in the street under the terms of the New Roads and Streetworks Act. Section 82 of that Act requires the utility undertaker
to compensate the transport authority for losses resulting from its street works or emergency works. Consequently, it is not in the utility company’s interests to allow apparatus to remain in a position where access could be affected by tramway operations in the future, without a suitable agreement being in place.
A promoter agreeing to ‘stopping the trams and allowing access’ may seem advantageous at an early stage, but as ever with shortcuts, the sting comes later. When access is required many organisations will require compensation. The utility may require compensation for added access difficulties, particularly if the trackbed has to be lifted or broken up. The tramway concessionaire will want compensation for loss of business and the additional costs of offering bus alternatives.
Of course, anyone’s business that is significantly affected by the tramway works should have the opportunity to object and (usually) come to some mutually acceptable agreement. Likewise, this should apply to individuals who may have their access disrupted and who are subject to noise during construction and future operation. This is the only time such individuals have the opportunity to complain as once the order is made, the clauses protecting against actions in nuisance comes into play. This is why the TWAO process can seem tortuous to the promoter and unfathomable to the individual objector.
Also, how often is it said that Britain follows all regulations to the letter and that its regulations are too prescriptive? From my experience of Europe, particularly France and Germany, this is not the case. UK Health and Safety Legislation is generally less prescriptive and more risk-based than that of its European counterparts. The Office of Rail and Road expects risks to be assessed, reasonable mitigations to be applied, and that final risks are ‘as low as reasonably practicable’ and at a ‘tolerable’ level. In other words, think before you act and work out the safe way to do it.
I travelled on a demonstration tram along a new route between Valenciennes and a town near the Belgian border during a workshop for the EU SINTROPHER project. The French Regulator had charged the project EUR50 000 for the safety certificate for that trip, making it by far the most expensive tram ride I have ever undertaken. A few months later at the UK Light Rail Conference in Nottingham I was on a demonstration tram travelling over an as-yet-unopened section of that city’s new extension; I asked the railway inspector on the ride if the ORR had charged and he said no, it was the responsibility of the operator to verify it was safe to run.
Design and construction standards
Another oft-heard criticism is that British tramways are built to heavy rail standards – but with my heavy rail background, I see little evidence of this. I agree that there is a lack of standards for light rail in the UK, and in due time the Light Rail Safety & Standards Board (LRSSB) will be looking to address this. It seems true that every system in the UK works to different standards, but if you visit just a few tramways around Europe you will find the same, with each being developed to suit the particular needs of the municipality they serve.
British tramways have always had to follow the ORR RSP2, now Tramway Principles and Guidance, a document the LRSSB will be taking over management responsibility for from UKTram. As there are few tramway standards, designers and contractors have tended to design afresh for each system and they may use certain heavy rail practices as a guide. I have observed the new Cross City line being constructed in Dublin, the extension from Snow Hill to New Street in Birmingham, the extensions in Nottingham, and repairs to the extensive tramway in Brussels, and they are all different. Brussels was the lightest by far, but I could not see its methods being considered acceptable within the UK environment.
Disruption and approvals
The disruption expected during construction in streets has a considerable impact on residents and businesses. Those affected who do not perceive an overall future benefit may object against the project and look for compensation. Objectors’ fears can be allayed with good planning and early consultation and ongoing engagement. Extended roadworks are seen as a major issue, but I have yet to see a realistic option to reduce disruption significantly. The best way is to plan any roadworks and utility diversions upfront, with the roadworks contractor co-ordinating access for utility contractors.
The outcome of the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry by Lord Hardie may give guidance to reduce the impact and cost of utility diversions as part of the construction process.
The lack of general standards for tram vehicles is seen as a barrier to progress because it makes products from the various manufacturers incompatible and adds difficulty for the operator to specify fairly. Conversely, tram manufacturers all produce a series of vehicle types that can be adapted in small ways to suit the city or operator. Normally about 20% of the tram can be easily modified to suit the operator’s visual and seating layout preferences, as well as the country’s legal requirements for road vehicles. There are some European Standards applicable for structural strength and crashworthiness according to the type of tram; these standards have and will continue to be adopted as British Standards, which ensures comparability between suppliers and suitability for the UK market.
However, there are differences between national standards, and in particular the way the UK enforces its Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (RVAR), which are subtly different to those in other countries and in places quite prescriptive.
The approvals process is decreed by the Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006 and requires the operator to undertake safety verification and have it confirmed by an independent and competent person. The ORR enforces both safety and compliance with RVAR, but does not give any approvals itself. This puts the onus on the operator to ensure safety rather than relying on ORR diktats.
With the introduction of the new tram-train service running over both Sheffield Supertram and Network Rail tracks in South Yorkshire, interoperability becomes a matter to be considered. This pilot scheme has not been easy and was never going to be; neither was it easy when the concept was first introduced in Karlsruhe (Germany). Safety and compatibility between different networks using a different set of standards and operating under a different legal basis was never going to be straightforward.
The trams need to be compatible with mainline track, signalling, electrification and communications systems; the mainline might need changes to mitigate incompatibilities including flange width, platform height and vehicle shape or gauge; and drivers need to be trained to operate under two distinct practices, line of sight and fully signalled, and there are human factor issues at the changeover point.
Are there really so many more barriers to the introduction of new tramways in Britain compared with Western Europe?
I think there are barriers, but they are more political and to do with funding, project appraisal and planning rather than cost, standards and utilities. Where there is political will and strong leadership, a tramway scheme has a chance, but the road to delivering it will be more difficult than in a country where trams are recognised as an essential mode and environmentally superior to other forms of urban transport.
Planning rules throughout Europe require that individual rights are protected, but with differences in how that is achieved. In Britain the legal system is based on an adversarial approach rather than the inquisitorial approach common in Europe, which can lead to extended proceedings and greater costs.
The most difficult barrier to overcome is the business case, against which different transport schemes are judged when it comes to allocation of central government funds. The current system using WebTAG can make it difficult to incorporate the full benefits that a tramway has over other forms of public road transport; for example it does not allow for the allocation of monetary equivalents for the many environmental and social economic benefits.
The use of discounted cashflows to determine the present-day value of the project (Net Present Value) means that early infrastructure costs are included in full and operational costs reduce with time. A bus-based operation has the cost of new vehicles, but the more frequent replacement costs are reduced or discounted as they are future costs. This means that the cashflow profile for a new tramway project is more heavily loaded with early costs than a bus-based scheme, which can lead to affordability constraints.
With the devolution of local transport spending, LEPs may select a tramway as a local priority, but any funds allocated need to be confirmed by the DfT and the Treasury, which will use WebTAG to judge if funds should be released.
Past under-estimations of cost and time have given tramways a bad name in government circles, and the implementation timescale means that any such project will span the tenure of several ministers and senior officials, whereas other options can be achieved in a much shorter time. The minister or councillor who cuts the ribbon is the one remembered.
We must remember that it wasn’t Jo Johnson MP (a transport minister in 2018 who has since resigned) who started the tram-train pilot; where were the other five or more former ministers who have helped it along the way? Long forgotten. This is typical, and does not help get long-term infrastructure projects started.
All images courtesy of Neil Pulling unless otherwise stated.
Article originally appeared in TAUT 973 (January 2019).
Alsace on France’s eastern border has a complex and interesting history. Although now firmly French, as part of the Grande Est region it has at various times been closely associated with German and Swiss territories and still retains Germanic and Swiss influences in its culture, place-names, buildings and cuisine. So perhaps it is not surprising that its tramway networks include three examples of services crossing boundaries that distinguish it from the rest of the country.
One of these is the Mulhouse tram-train line, arguably the only true tram-train route in France. This owes its existence to the willingness of different organisations to work together across borders between different forms of rail operation.
The other two are among the world’s few tram routes to cross national borders: Strasbourg tramline D (which crosses the River Rhein (Rhine) to terminate in the German town of Kehl); and Basel tramline 3 (which crosses the city boundary to terminate in the neighbouring French municipality of St Louis). Both reflect international co-operation; but in reviewing the context and operation of these three lines, it is worth noting specific issues that have arisen in their realisation.
The city of Mulhouse has at various times been part of what are now France, Germany and Switzerland. A part of France since 1918, it retains an international feel: where else in the country would you find restaurants termed ‘winstubs’ with choucroute (sauerkraut) and rostis (grated fried potatoes) on the menu?
Mulhouse’s city tram network, opened in 2006, is small: its two lines total about 16km (ten miles). Line 1 runs northwards from the main station around the city centre, and out to the modern high-rise suburb of Chataignier. Line 2 runs between Nouveau Bassin northeast of the centre and the modern suburb of Coteaux to the southwest, passing through the university area. The two cross at the junction of Porte Jeune, a square on the north side of the city centre. Operated by Solea, it is electrified at 750v DC and run by a fleet of yellow Alstom Citadis 302s.
The tram-train line, which adds an additional 16km (ten miles), was developed in parallel with the tramway. The urban tramway design allowed for this: at 2.65m wide it accommodates the SNCF tram-trains as well as the city trams. Almost all other French tramways have 2.4m tramcars. The trackwork design allows for SNCF wheel flange depths.
Planning for the tram-train required close co-operation between SNCF, regional and city authorities, Solea and different regulatory bodies. The first part of the route involves a separate line parallel to the main line from Daguerre to the station of Lutterbach. This is electrified at 750V dc, and is part single-track, with simple colour light signals. Beyond Lutterbach the route continues northwest to Thann – the entrance to the Thur Valley – then along the branch line up through the Thur valley to Kruth in the Vosges mountains. This section is single-track, electrified at 25kv ac, and signalled under SNCF regulations.
The tram-train service begins from the stop just in front of the main railway station, runs to the junction stop at Porte Jeune and then follows line 2 west to Daguerre, where it branches off round a tight loop to continue along the section to Lutterbach. This section serves lower density residential areas, and also, at Musées, the Cité du Train (the national railway museum) and Electropoles (electricity museum).
At Lutterbach the tramway island platform is parallel to the main SNCF station. Just to the north of this, the tram-train line merges with the Kruth line as it branches off the main line and continues northwest, the main line veering north. There are crossing points at the intermediate stations of Wittelsheim-Graffenweld and Cernay, both serving small towns. In Thann, the tram-train serves five stations: two in Vieux Thann (industry and residential); Thann Gare, the former main station, near the town centre, still a typical French country station; and two new stops just beyond, Thann Centre with a single platform face, and Thann St Jacques with an island platform where the tram-train terminates in a bay. Here the town narrows into the Thur valley, up which the branch line continues to Kruth.
The tram-train service runs between Mulhouse Gare and Thann St Jacques every 30 minutes, all day from Monday to Saturday, serving all tramstops and branch line stations. In between the route is served to Lutterbach by a half-hourly tram service, line 3, giving a tram every 15 minutes. On Sundays both run every hour. Beyond Thann the non-electrified section to Kruth is served by an SNCF TER train running from Mulhouse station over the railway line to Lutterbach, and along the branch through Thann. This runs hourly: a very frequent service by SNCF branch standards.
With the tram-train the Thann district has a very good service providing access into the heart of the city and, via interchanges, to much of the conurbation. Traffic has grown steadily and appears to include some trips along parts of the line and into Mulhouse.
The tram-train service, opened in 2010, is operated by a batch of Siemens Avanto vehicles, equipped to operate from both 750V dc and 25kv ac. Within the city these serve all stops, functioning as part of the tramway system. Although SNCF stock, they are driven by a combination of SNCF and Solea drivers and are maintained at Solea’s depot. Announcements onboard and at tram-train stations reflect the usual SNCF principle of naming every single station, with urban tram stop names all preceded by ‘Mulhouse’.
Solea urban tickets are valid on the tram-trains (and T3) as far as Lutterbach. The areas beyond this point are included in new outer zones for Mulhouse travel. Appropriate SNCF TER tickets, validated before boarding, may also be used. No doubt many regular users hold period or multiple tickets for their journey. The one difficulty in travelling on to Thann via Lutterbach when using an urban day ticket is that the only ticket machine and validator lies at the far end of the station building, reached by an underpass from the tram-train platform.
Strasbourg tramline D
From its initial 9km (5.6 miles) opened in 1994, Strasbourg’s tramway has grown into a substantial and still expanding network. It is a complex one, with a close network of several routes covering the more densely occupied area of the city. This is exemplified by the almost continual procession of trams passing through triangular junctions such as Landsberg on the eastern side. Services are run with three generations of trams: the original Eurotrams built in Derby; and two successive batches of Alstom Citadis403 designed to look like the Eurotram.
Strasbourg’s history includes close and sometimes complex links with the German town of Kehl in the State of Baden, just across the Rhine on the eastern bank. France and Germany are members of both the European Union and the Schengen Area, so there is total freedom of movement across their borders. Kehl functions in part as a valued catchment area for Strasbourg, and in turn benefits from the employment and facilities of its large neighbour. This is recognised in the formal Eurodistrict Strasbourg-Ortenau, fully established in 2010, with the recognition of French and German Governments. This represents Kehl and two other German towns together with the Eurométropole de Strasbourg (the city region since 2015, formerly the Communauté Urbaine de Strasbourg, CUS); it aims to develop close bonds between authorities, institutions and individuals on both sides of the border. The population is over 900 000: Kehl with 35 000 and the Strasbourg Metropole 500 000, of which Strasbourg city has 280 000.
Regular bus and local train services have long provided links across the Rhine. Latterly the bus route has operated between Kehl station and the tramstop at Aristide Briand, former terminal of line D from western and central Strasbourg. With continual growth in movement over the river, linking Kehl fully into Strasbourg’s city transport system was always potentially valuable, on a similar basis to links with similar adjacent municipalities in its French catchment. Indeed, the risk of congestion offered by the single bridge made the creation of a quality transit link even more important.
The decision to extend tramline D across the Rhine to Kehl Bahnhof was made by the CUS in 2009, and supported by Kehl council in 2011. An additional aim was to support development on vacant land around Strasbourg’s port. The extension, 2.9km (1.8 miles) long and opened in 2017. Strasbourg funded the portion to the mid-Rhine, while the cost of the section beyond was split between the various partners. Further extension south to Kehl Rathaus (town hall) was subsequently agreed, funded by the German authorities; construction of this short section is now nearing completion.
The section to Kehl Bahnhof runs from Aristide-Briand for some distance through the Strasbourg port area, with an intermediate bowstring bridge over an arm of the Rhine. Two stops in the port area are planned when development takes place around them. Major development, mostly residential, has now been built around the new stop of Port-du-Rhin near the river. Beyond here the line climbs to a spectacular 290m double bowstring bridge over the Rhine. At 16m wide, this carries two tram tracks plus a pedestrian and cycleway. There is a reversing siding before the bridge. On the German side the line runs forward a short way to terminate (currently) in front of Kehl railway station.
Line D services run every 7.5 minutes during the main part of the day, but alternative trams terminate at Port-du-Rhin so that the service to Kehl runs every 15 minutes. It forms part of the CTS network and normal CTS tariffs apply.
Basel tramline 3
The city of Basel forms one of Switzerland’s major centres in terms of commerce,
industry and population, and is a key transport hub at the south end of the Rhine. Lying on the borders with both France and Germany, adjacent towns in these countries have become as much part of the metropolitan region as its own suburbs. This is recognised in the formal Trinational Eurodistrict Basel (TEB) of 62 suburban communes, which includes municipalities in neighbouring countries and which has a population of over 830 000. The Swiss municipalities within this have a population of over 540 000, the city itself 200 000.
The French part of the TEB includes St Louis, a small commune of 20 000 people but forming the focus of a group of districts (agglomération) with a total population of 70 000. Within it an area west of the main Basel to Mulhouse railway line is largely undeveloped at present, but is designated as the location for major development (Euro3Lys) under the 2013 strategic plan (SCOT) for St Louis. Euro3Lys will include a Technopark, a commercial and leisure centre (Trois Pays) and a large residential area (Quartier de Lys). Just to the northwest, within French territory, is the EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, a very unusual airport that is divided, in principle at least, into separate French and Swiss sections.
Switzerland is a member of the Schengen Area, like France and Germany, and thus does not maintain barriers to movement of people across borders with them. But it is not a member of the European Union and so maintains a customs border to check and tax goods. In practice this means only the occasional check, rather than tight controls on vehicles crossing the border points.
Basel’s metre-gauge tramway dates back to 1895. Continual development and extension created a dense network by the 1950s, which forms the basis of today’s modern system, run on the whole by BVB. On the north side the tramway lines extend up to the borders with France and Germany. By the new millennium, planning was in hand to extend lines across the borders into adjacent urban areas. The first extension approved and constructed was of BVB line 8, extended in 2014 into the adjacent German town of Weil-am-Rhein east of the river.
In the area adjoining France, two lines terminated at the border with St Louis: line 11 at St Louis Grenze, just south of the built-up part of St Louis town; and line 3 at Burgfelden Grenze, some way southwest. Extending line 11 would have linked straight into the contiguous urban area (as did the through-line from Basel that opened in 1910, when St Louis was the German town of Sankt Ludwig, and closed in 1950). But the decision was taken to extend line 3 instead, following an alignment serving parts of the new Euro3Lys development. Construction went ahead and the line was opened through to its terminus at St Louis railway station in December 2017. It is 3.4km (2.1 miles) long, running for 2.6km (1.6 miles) on the French side.
From Waldighofferstrasse stop, near the previous terminus, the extension runs between allotments on one side and open land on the other. The border point has a customs shed and office, with tram stops incorporated either side, named Burgfelderhof. There is a turning loop for trams not going on to St Louis; this briefly crosses the border line into French territory. Just beyond, the line runs down a hill between a sports field and light industry in French territory and goes through the western edge of St Louis, where three stops are located. Finally it runs between fields forming the future Quartier de Lys. It terminates on the west side of St Louis station, in a bus/tram/car set-down area with multi-storey car park. An underpass leads to the station booking office on the east side; the town centre lies beyond that.
The daytime frequency to Burgfelderhof is eight trams per hour, but every second service turns there, giving four trams per hour through to St Louis. Services are operated by new single-ended Bombardier Flexity 2 trams. The extension is not covered by standard Basel tickets; specific tickets are needed to cross the border either way. Separate (Euro) tickets are available for travel within the French section. Through trams pause at Burgfelderhof for a short while, presumably to allow customs checks if required.
A wider reach?
The last 30 years have seen phenomenal expansion of tramways in France as an effective transport tool in its city development strategies. This reflects the widespread economic and social connectivity tramways create, their low environmental impacts and effective use of resources, and role underpinning sustainable development.
The examples reviewed in this article indicate that these effects can be achieved across even wider boundaries. Perhaps this is attributable to the history of Alsace as a border territory where co-operation between different groups of people and organisations has long been the norm. It offers a valuable lesson to us all.
Article originally appeared in TAUT 973 (January 2019).
Our towns and cities are increasingly becoming places where people want to live, work and spend their leisure time, with a rising number choosing to live next to rail routes for the convenience this offers.
According to the United Nation’s World Urbanization Prospects Highlights 2018, 55% of the world’s population already lives in urban areas, compared to around 30% in 1950. It is also anticipated that 68% of the global population will be living in towns or cities by 2050. The challenge therefore is to ensure sustainable urbanisation – as those 2.5 billion new citizens relocate to cities in the coming decades.
As new residential developments have sprung up in towns and cities across the world, and suburban growth continues, the attraction of living closer to the transportation networks that move them around these densely-populated areas is obvious.
To cater for these needs, governments and city authorities are encouraging the greater adoption of sustainable transport modes in and around these expanding urban settlements. Rail-based solutions such as train, tram and metro services are generally viewed as more efficient and environmentally-friendly than rubber-tyred motor vehicles as they do not contribute to already problematic congestion issues and are not reliant on burning fossil fuels for energy. They also produce fewer CO2 and other harmful emissions.
All these factors have brought residents and rail networks closer together. As a result of this growing urban population density, we have seen a rise in complaints about noise and vibration levels from these networks. Additionally, as increasing numbers of rail services now run almost 24 hours a day, there are issues related to the noise generated at night when the limits of what is deemed acceptable are dramatically reduced.
What causes noise and vibration?
The founding principle of rail transport is the low friction steel-on-steel contact between wheel and rail. This is the very reason for the mode’s efficiency (low maintenance, high axle load etc), but also its fundamental burden as it is this interaction that creates noise and vibration.
Direct noise related to urban transport is primarily due to the rolling noise produced by train wheels and track as a result of their vibration. This noise travels through the air, from the source of the railway line to both residents and businesses located nearby.
But this is not the only annoyance. The vibration produced by the solid contact between the steel of the wheels and the steel of the track also passes into the ground and reaches into nearby buildings where it is ‘converted’ into secondary noise when walls and floors vibrate and effectively act as giant loudspeakers to magnify the effects (see above). This structure-borne noise can be a significant problem for those located close to rail lines… even with their windows closed.
With brand new infrastructure and new rolling stock, the noise is likely to be minimal. However as soon as there are even slight imperfections in the geometry and the surface of the wheel, or of the track, vibrations arise. These soon become noticeable by local residents, leading to a rise in complaints.
And as any rail operator will know, harsh braking or leaves or other contaminants on the track that make the rails slippery can cause wheel slips, leading to wheel flats that create the often-heard ‘thump-thump-thump’ heard by both passengers and local residents as the damaged wheel areas strike the hard rails beneath them. Sharp curves in the track alignment can also cause major issues for those living nearby because of the common issue of ‘curve squeal’ which is experienced if the track is not properly designed, installed or maintained. This effect can be even more problematic in the morning, when each vehicle that exits the depot – which is generally full of sharp curves – generates a high-pitched squealing noise as it runs over the curved track alignment.
However, the most common, and some say most irritating, noise, is the ‘tac-tac’ sound that results from a vehicle running over a local defect. There are several potential causes of this effect. A driver accelerating too hard on a stretch of track can also lead to wheel slip, which in turn creates a small indentation in the track. A poorly-welded or ground rail, or rail fixed with fishplates, will also eventually lead to rail head defects. Sections that feature a lot of heavy braking or acceleration, and in some cases a vehicle’s behaviour on curves, can lead to rail corrugation. This is where a defect becomes replicated at short intervals along the track, causing an even greater disturbance.
The other major cause of nuisance noise and vibration is that transmitted into the structure of a bridge or viaduct; this results in the structure magnifying the effects of noise travelling through the air to people below and beside it. Inaccuracies in the track geometry can also result in similar effects.
Finally, and despite noticeable improvements in their design, switches and crossings are a source of significant noise and vibration, as they imply gaps and alignment changes to guide the wheels.
Whatever the reason for the noise, a frequent characteristic is that once residents are sensitised to the vibration and noise levels affecting their properties, there needs to be a step-change to mitigate the disturbance.
How do we control it?
There are four ways, at track level, to limit noise and vibration annoyance to those in close proximity to an urban rail line:
• Deliver a new state-of-the-art rail system
• Monitor and maintain the existing system
• Reduce track degradation by adding track resilience
• Mitigate noise and vibration.
The best way to lessen the impact is to integrate countermeasures into the design
of a new or upgraded track. Prevention is always far easier than cure and mitigation needs to be carefully considered and built into all modern tramways, railways and metro systems from the earliest design phases wherever possible.
Integrate noise and vibration solutions into track design
Track construction needs to be carried out carefully to avoid all those local defects that can generate unwanted effects: smooth geometry, proper consideration of the wheel design and rail interaction, high-quality welding and grinding of the rails and basic resilience in the track.
Some level of resilience is generally incorporated into modern track designs, to attenuate the transfer of dynamic forces from the wheel/rail to the track support. This provides an initial track quality that aims to avoid generating vibrations – and the noise resulting from them.
Monitoring track and wheel quality
While noise and vibration can never be eliminated entirely, ensuring the quality
and geometry of the track installation is essential to reducing their effects. In order to achieve this, the condition of the track needs to be constantly monitored with any maintenance and repairs carried out promptly and efficiently. This preventative maintenance will reduce vibration issues and prevent them worsening or causing secondary issues with the track.
Pandrol’s Head Wash Repair (HWR) kit is a popular solution as it provides a quick
and cost-effective solution to repairing railhead defects, significantly decreasing
the maintenance cost of modern rail networks. Reducing the amount of welds by using specially-developed moulds, this opens up new capabilities by enabling the removal of defects up to 25mm (one inch), depending on the rail profile – for example, the repair of flash butt welds, which often suffer from squats.
Active wheel monitoring must also be carried out to ensure that vehicle wheelsets are in a good state of repair and will not damage the track. This issue led to the development of solutions such as WheelChex®, a measurement device mounted at the lineside that integrates three measuring technologies to assess rail acceleration vertically and laterally, as well as rail core temperature. By measuring the impact upon the railhead of each wheel of a passing rail vehicle (for example, if it has a flat), such technologies allow operators and engineers to gain a better understanding of the performance of a vehicle’s wheels and for the preparation of appropriate maintenance regimes.
Track quality control by resilience
Besides infrastructure and vehicle maintenance, introducing an elastic medium with specific spring characteristics – i.e. track resilience – will help maintain track quality at a higher level for longer periods.
For example, for ballasted track, Under Sleeper Pads (USP) are tailor-made resilient systems that are designed to reduce maintenance interventions. Placed between the sleeper and the ballast, USPs improve the ride of the vehicles and provide a reduction in vibration by fixing elastic elements to the bottom surface of the sleepers.
Having a well-defined stiffness and/or continuous support of the rail will also reduce rail corrugation and the consequent increase of vibration, as well as the need for maintenance grinding. This can be achieved thanks to systems such as QTrack® or low resilience baseplates. One of the advantages of such systems is that their stiffness levels can be carefully adjusted to achieve the specific attenuation levels required.
Track isolation principles
If these first three measures are not sufficient, then the vibration generated by the rail systems needs to be further mitigated. The idea is to create a mass spring system with the track introducing an elastic medium with specific spring and damping characteristics to ‘decouple’ the track with the result that vibration energy remains in the track and is not transmitted to neighbouring structures.
To simulate the conditions and monitor the effectiveness of our solutions, we developed Track Elastic Model (TEM) software. This can also be used to simulate conditions at the transition between different types of track and thereby smooth the design to avoid local degradation.
There are various levels of vibration reduction that can be achieved by different methods. These range from introducing soft fasteners, through to integrating very soft floating slab track, depending on the design requirements and individual conditions that are dependent on site specifics.
Soft solutions include various baseplates and under-sleeper pads that help reduce the vibrationary impacts of passing vehicles in urban areas where requirements are low to medium. Naturally, the more intensive the services, especially prevalent in cities, the greater the potential issue.
The preferred solution of many metros is our VIPA DRS system, which is suitable for installation on non-ballasted tracks and areas where a reduction in vibration and secondary noise is required. This features a Pandrol e-Clip baseplate mounted onto a studded natural rubber pad. Within specified limits the configuration can be tuned to meet requirements on axle loads and stiffness and this system also exhibits a high level of electrical insulation. Components can also easily be replaced in situ.
Rail fastening systems such as Vanguard offer very low vertical dynamic stiffness that in turn means high levels of vibration isolation. They are suitable for use on concrete or timber sleepers, slab track on bridges and viaducts and in tunnels, and offer a very low-profile that can easily be retrofitted. This system has been installed in cities such as Barcelona, Madrid, Milan, London, Stockholm, Sydney, Sao Paulo and Philadelphia; under optimal conditions it has been shown that reductions in noise levels of the order of 10-12dBA have been achieved. This has been enough to reduce the noise to a level where it is barely perceptible, thereby eliminating complaints from nearby residents entirely.
For higher attenuation requirements, Floating Slab Mat (FSM) solutions can be used. These are installed bellow the track base and provide excellent vibration reduction, creating a very efficient mass spring system working perfectly both during the day (fully-loaded vehicles) or at night (empty vehicles but with very demanding noise limits).
As an example of this approach, STIB-MIVB selected an FSM installation to mitigate
these issues on Brussels’ tramway with over 150 000m2 installed over busy urban sectors with limited intervention time. The noise attenuation requirements were extremely high in these locations as local residents regularly complained about tram noise in busy narrow streets. However, since the installation the level of complaints from residents has been minimal.
In the most demanding areas, an even more efficient mass spring system is the floating slab pad, where the resilient mats are substituted for softer discrete pads. This implies the use of precast slab track making the solution more expensive, but this provides a premium level of vibration management through a system that is easy to install and renew. This is ideal, for example, in any highly-demanding tunnel project. The Spanish city of Barcelona has been using this system on its metro since the late 1990s.
Since rail transport is an important part of any low carbon transport system, and helps reduce road traffic congestion in a world where over four billion people now live in cities, minimising the noise and vibration it causes in urban areas is essential.
Good design and maintenance are key,and effective solutions are being integrated within the new and existing rail networks within many towns and cities, enabling residents to live peacefully alongside.
Article originally appeared in TAUT 974 (Feb 2019).
Our perceptions of the world are built upon the interactions of our senses. They help us comprehend our surroundings and are powerful drivers of both positive and negative emotional responses, affecting our feelings about a product or service.
It is also a fallacy to believe that in particular situations one sense assumes dominance. When listening to someone speak you might think that your hearing is ‘in charge’ – but as our brains process all the available sensory information together, it is important that all five senses work in harmony to communicate a single message or brand value.
Any estate agent will tell you that baking a fresh loaf of bread or having a pot of coffee on the stove will generate a more favourable association of ‘home’ than just cleanliness alone. Likewise, as masters of the art of ‘sensory engineering’, automobile manufacturers spend fortunes on tuning the sound of a door opening or closing to create that reassuring feel of quality, calibrating the note of an exhaust to demonstrate power or performance, or making subtle changes to the texture or feeling of a vehicle’s switchgear.
This science of sensory design is relatively new to public transport, despite examples of minimal investment paying dividends in terms of customer satisfaction and ridership. It just requires imagination and a better understanding of the five senses.
As Régine Charvet Pello from French transport design specialist RCP Design Global explains: “Giving a form and a colour to a tram is not design, that’s styling. We analyse how passengers behave: do they stand? Do they sit? Do they read? What kinds of items do they take with them and what do they touch when onboard the tram? It is all about creating an atmosphere of comfort and safety.”
RCP has spent decades scrutinising the passenger experience, seeking to create more relaxing and intuitive journeys. Temperature, texture, colour, sound, luminosity and materials are all important instruments in the company’s toolbox. Taking examples from the tram project in Tours, France, where RCP is based, Ms Charvet Pello explained: “Normally when you have tenders in France you ask the manufacturer to come up with a tram design. This time we put all the actors on the project around a table – technicians, designers, politicians, urban planners, psychologists and architects. They all worked on the concept of ‘what is a tram’, and what kind of tram does this city in particular need?”
The system that opened in August 2013 uses a range of techniques to better connect its vehicles and infrastructure to a passenger’s emotions to create that feeling of comfort and safety – and it’s working well. Thousands more in this city of 300 000 are leaving their cars at home, with 36.1m passenger journeys recorded in 2017, and 50% more people are using the tramway than the bus line it replaced.
Ms Charvet Pello continues: “We know that sensory design facilitates the use of the tram. It also promotes public transport as a whole by creating connections with bus and rail services, changing the city’s fundamental infrastructure and at the same time supporting its identity.”
As cities expand, more people are using trams, metros and buses as the most efficient forms of urban travel – but this success brings its own challenges. Public transport anxiety affects significant numbers of travellers and as fear is well-known for over-riding all other emotions, busy or complex networks can be a cause of stress and bewilderment.
Crowds, confined spaces and interaction with strangers all play their part in feeding this anxiety, yet without major investment in new infrastructure and more vehicles, sensory design can address these barriers cost-effectively to make a massive difference.
Sight. More than half the brain is devoted to processing visual stimulus, and 80% of learning is based upon visual input. As Ms Charvet Pello explained: “Sensory design gives intuitive ways of using public transport. We worked with an artist who created the white and black stripes that we put on both the tram and the platform to direct people to enter and exit the tram at all doors.
“Because we took the tram out of Tours in 1948, in order to explain to people not to all line up at the front, this simple, artistic visual code explains that they could enter and leave at all doors. Just follow the stripes and get onto the tram. This has been very successful.
“We also know from our testing that if a tram is perceived as clean then it adds to the comfort. The dark floor materials do not show marks; it doesn’t mean they are gone, just harder to find. On the seats we use velvet, not because velvet is cleaner than other fabrics but it absorbs the marks better so it looks cleaner.”
“We use light in relation to temperature comfort as well. The tram shelters use transparent and slightly opaque sides to protect people from the wind, the rain, but also the sunshine. Special glass prevents solar radiation from warming up the stops. A similar principle is applied to the trams’ windows.
“We have also carried out extensive research on how lighting changes the perception of temperature when indoors. We tested a pure white ‘cold source’ LED and a ‘warmer’ light and found that the testers perceived the temperature under the white light as 2.5-3°C lower than the actual temperature. All this affects comfort.”
Sound. Getting your message across is as much about the choice of a voice as it is about volume and clarity – get it wrong and important announcements are ignored or go unheard. In Tours, RCP chose simple sound codes, as Ms Charvet Pello explains: “We opted for a female voice as studies have shown that female voices are more comforting and reassuring. However, a male voice is proven to give more authority so in emergency situations the announcements change when giving you instructions on where to go.”
In Rotterdam, as part of a series of multi-sensory experiments in 2015 at the city’s new Centraal station, operator RET undertook a trial to alleviate the frustration associated with waiting times using a programme of specially-developed music, scents, lighting and decorations.
Scientific research showed RET that station waiting time is not only over-estimated by a factor of three, but it is also perceived to be much more negative than in-vehicle time. So while the glass and stainless steel station that opened the year before is smart and easy on maintenance, the new environment was also identified by passengers as cold, sterile and overly clinical – adversely affecting the comprehension of waiting times.
A new music programme was created, using different styles for different times of day, beginning with natural sounds early in the morning to connect with the mood of passengers who may have just got out of bed, and adopting a relaxed tempo during rush hour to combat background noise and promote feelings of calm. A more lively style was used following rush hour as more travellers use the system for recreation.
The mostly instrumental playlist was selected randomly so that commuters were not confronted with the same music each day; this was also easily adapted for special events such as the city’s hosting of the North Sea Jazz Festival or to specific station environments. For instance, the playlist at Blijdorp (the Zoo) contained more animal sounds to add to the atmosphere of this station.
Following the trial, feedback on station environments was recorded as more positive and the overall general customer satisfaction score went up a few points.
Smell. Scent is a very powerful instrument in influencing a person’s mood. It’s the first sense we use when we’re born and this strong emotive link has been exploited by hotels for decades, using signature scents to encourage brand loyalty and feelings of comfort.
In its 2015 pilot, RET infused the air of its metro stations with a subtle combination of citrus and green nuts. Even for barely noticeable aromas, the brain is capable of detecting and reacting to scents and this was used to promote emotional responses of security and cleanliness. RET’s research showed that enhancing these two emotions encouraged passengers’ feelings of control of their situation, removing anxiety.
Such ‘scent marketing’ can even be used to drive business more directly. In 2012, Dunkin’ Donuts found some striking results following its ‘Flavor Radio’ trials on buses in Seoul, South Korea. Special dispensers distributed the aroma of the brand’s fresh coffee whenever its advertising jingle played on the public address system. The company claimed the three-month trial resulted in a 16% increase in visitors to stores located near stops served by buses equipped with the technology, and a 29% increase in coffee sales.
Touch. While the common plastic or moquette seat coverings may be the most practical – durable, easy to clean and vandal resistant – their design is also important. Given that trams and metro vehicles are designed to last for 20-30 years, what could be in vogue now may well look out-dated in 2045. All these factors need to be considered as part of overall sensory design, Ms Charvet Pello argues.
“For the benches at stops we originally thought of using steel, but steel is very warm in summertime and cold in winter, so we decided to use wood. But wood is quite expensive and requires more maintenance, so we tested three types of material – real wood, decorative vinyl and laminate (wood and resin). Our testers felt the laminate looked and felt more like wood than wood itself – and it was less expensive.
“Then we looked at handrails on the trams. Using previous work with the French national railway we observed that passengers didn’t like to hold onto handrails because they perceived them as unclean. Smooth plastic provides a warm and slightly greasy touch, so we ran trials with both testers and passengers and found that if we polished it slightly more roughly it provided a dry touch. It costs no more money to polish it in a different way, but it provides a better feeling of comfort.”
Spatial awareness. There are certain physical constraints that restrict what can be done within the typical modular design of tram or metro car. But as cramped or tight environments are the stated number one cause of public transport anxiety, in Tours a number of simple solutions were found: “Nobody likes the closed and narrow spaces sometimes found in public transport,” Ms Charvet Pello says, “so to take away that ‘tunnel effect’ we painted one wall red and treated the other to a different colour and a different material. We can’t push the walls back, but we can use visual tricks to provide what appears to be a wider space.”
“We also know that what people find most tedious in everyday travelling is that they are always seated in the same way and treated the same way. So we studied how people behave when waiting in different situations and came up with a new layout by using standard materials but in a different way.
“This provides people with something that is more comfortable and more attractive. I can be isolated if I want, or I can sit with someone else and talk – I have that choice as a customer.”
As an example of the level of attention to detail which designers use in connecting with passengers, over the last three years RCP has worked with a doctorate researcher to observe, document and analyse how people engage and interact with urban transport systems.
Looking at behaviours across 12 cities in seven different countries, and paying particular attentiveness to passengers’ expectations concerning space, perception and practices in urban transport, almost all behaviours observed displayed common traits.
A very small share showed distinct cultural and environmental characteristics and this is where the secrets lie in creating those emotional links, Ms Charvet Pello believes. It is the designers’ job to cater for these when encouraging feelings of comfort and safety.
Sensory design offers a range of approaches to connect with passengers, reinforce the key values of your city or transport system and encourage brand loyalty. Simple but well thought-out measures such as those outlined here can cost-effectively meet passengers’ needs, while also taking into account technical constraints within a given budget and make public transport more attractive and more user-friendly.
It doesn’t need to cost the earth, but the benefits shown in Tours and Rotterdam make sensory design worth the effort.
Article originally appeared in TAUT 972 (Dec 2018).
Thesuccessful launch of tram-train services from Sheffield Cathedral to Rotherham Parkgate on 25 October 2018 was an historic occasion for the UK railway industry.
Britain’s first true tram-train operation has not only opened up new journey opportunities for those in the Sheffield City Region, but will also provide a useful new transport option for the expanding urban regions looking to reduce congestion and emissions. Most importantly, this pilot is proving popular with travellers, the real way to gauge success.
It seems so easy looking back, but behind the smooth operation lies a huge amount of work to enable it to happen.
‘Why is it so hard, they do it in Germany – just get on with it’ is an oft-asked question by those not directly involved, such as politicians and other commentators. As has been shown many times with major or innovative projects, the devil is in the detail, usually glossed over by those not responsible for giving the approval to enter service. Just think back to the London Underground’s Jubilee line extension to Stratford in the 1990s, the current cross-capital Crossrail scheme, and many schemes in between that have been bedevilled by those ignoring the detail.
Unlike normal rail projects, the introduction of tram-train to the UK broke many rules for main line operation and required special approvals to run. Hopefully when proven by this pilot, this will be the start of many more similar services that have the potential to connect street tramways to new destinations on the main line.
A brief history of tram-train
The tram-train concept was developed in Germany’s Karlsruhe to connect its urban tramway to failing suburban lines; as a consequence of improved service frequencies and additional tramstops near residential areas, ridership grew dramatically.
This ‘pilot’ project that began in the late 1980s broke many of the rules in Germany at the time and there was a considerable amount of safety work required before it gained the approval of the then Deutsche Bundesbahn for services to operate. The concept soon spread around Germany with similar operations in Saarbrücken, Nordhausen and Kassel. It is also used across Europe, with schemes in France, the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark.
In late 2006 a study tour was arranged by ACoRP (the Association for Community Rail Partnerships) to learn about tram-train, which led to a visit to Kassel for executives from the UK Department for Transport, Network Rail and NedRail in 2007. The delegates all saw great potential in what they saw and the idea of a UK pilot was soon born, with the aim of having tram-trains running as a demonstration within six months. It became apparent that this was not going to be possible as, for a start, Kassel was not able to supply one of its diesel-electric bi-mode tram-train vehicles in time. But the concept was sold and now had three influential champions.
At this early stage no tram owner or operator was involved and the project was being led by the heavy rail industry. Many have asked why this was the case: surely a tram operator would understand the operation of tram-like vehicles much better than a bunch of heavy rail people? But it was decided that with the cultural differences, it was much better to have a ‘pull’ from the main line, where most of the problems would arise, rather than having them resisting a ‘push’ from an unwelcome tram operator.
First steps in the UK
A limited budget was proposed, with a view to learning as much as we could with a pilot project and thus saving money and time as well as easing the approvals process for future tram-train schemes. These objectives looked at the costs, differences and revisions to standards required to enable tram-like vehicles to run on the UK’s mainline, understanding the complexities at the interface between the two systems, and the all-important passenger perception.
A prerequisite for this project was for heavy rail engineers and operators to understand the intricacies of light rail and vice versa. This immediately led those leading the exercise to ask ‘why are there delineated heavy rail and light rail engineers and operators?’ There are many similarities and some differences, all with good reasons.
With relatively few tramways in Great Britain, certainly even fewer a decade ago, the industry cannot support more than a handful of career light rail design engineers by itself – there just aren’t enough projects. Thus heavy rail designers will naturally become involved with new tramway projects. It therefore seems logical that the training for future railway engineers should include both light and heavy rail engineering, not forgetting metros, all of which have their own peculiarities.
Heavy rail also has defined standards that cover virtually all aspects of design, whereas there are relatively few in tramways, limiting the guidance that can be found easily.
This pilot had to transcend this aspect by obtaining deviations to heavy rail standards
and combining approvals processes to save duplication and potential conflicts.
Identification of major issues
At the start of any rule-breaking project, it is essential to identify the major issues that need to be resolved and the rules that need to be broken. Initial discussions with the Karlsruhe technical consultancy TTK enabled us to learn from the German experience and identify where the ‘Karlsruhe Model’ could act as a useful guide and where the differences for a UK solution would be needed.
For example, German mainline track, signalling and electrification standards have significant differences to the UK’s, adding to the difficulties in implementing a UK pilot. We soon learnt whilst travelling around the European railways that each country operates to different standards and signalling principles – it is no wonder then that the EU introduced its Railway Interoperability Directives. However, in Britain there are significant similarities in what we were seeking to achieve with the extension of Tyne & Wear Metro trains over the main line to Sunderland and the learning from this service was included.
Documenting the learning
Ian Ambrose is responsible within Network Rail for collating the learning from the pilot and has been involved in the commissioning stage. He describes how this was accomplished within the requirements of both heavy rail and tramway approval processes, ensuring safety on both networks:
A key objective of the pilot is to document and share lessons learned in the design, build, commissioning and operation stages of the introduction of tram-train operation in the UK across the rail and light rail industries.
The successful conclusion of the commissioning stages and subsequent entry into service has provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the issues and concerns relating to the operation of a light rail vehicle on the main line network have been overcome. The rigorous testing undertaken on both the South Yorkshire Supertram Limited (SYSL) and Network Rail (NR) networks under the Common Safety Method – Risk Evaluation and Assessment (CSM-RA) – the current approval regime for all new railway infrastructure and vehicles – has shown that Citylink vehicles can operate safely on existing and appropriately modified main line infrastructure alongside both freight and passenger traffic.
Under current legislation, approvals for tramway vehicles and infrastructure are covered by the Safety Verification method under The Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006 (as amended) (ROGS). This applies to both railways and tramways. For more detail it is advisable to consult the UKTram publication A guide to promoters planning to operate Light Rail and other non-mainline vehicles on Network Rail-managed infrastructure1, a plain-English version of the RSSB report Non-mainline vehicles: Guidance on regulatory requirements – T1049.
As tram-train vehicles and some of the new infrastructure are exempt from the Railway (Interoperability) Regulations 2011, one of the most significant achievements of the project has been to enable both the Safety Verification and CSM-RA processes to be undertaken as a single activity, completed in time for both operation on the tramway (September 2017) and the railway (May 2018).
Following the successful introduction into service on the existing tramway, detailed commissioning plans were prepared for the full Cathedral to Parkgate service. Incorporating the new infrastructure (primarily the electrification, as dc overhead systems are uncommon on the national network in the UK), the low-height platforms at Rotherham Central and Parkgate, and the vehicles, this also included obtaining approval for the deviations from UK Railway Group Standards required from the relevant Standards Committees.
At the same time working instructions were developed for operating over the boundary between SYSL and NR infrastructure, the so-called Tinsley Chord. This required a collaborative approach between operations and maintenance staff of both undertakings due to a number of boundary issues identified through the design of the connection between the two networks. A similar approach was used for the operation and management of Rotherham Central station which is unusual in having two station facility owners: the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) for the tram-train service platforms and rail operator Northern for the rest, although all maintenance and operational activity is undertaken by Northern staff.
Following the completion of electrification testing, vehicle commissioning could begin. Critical issues here were gauging – checking the clearances between any lineside structures and the vehicles and the wheel/rail interface. Could the new Citylink vehicles safely operate on the railway, particularly through switches and crossings? We also verified vehicle recovery procedures to ensure that a failed Citylink could be safely returned to SYSL’s Nunnery depot, and double-checked the power supply to ensure it was sufficient to enable the timetable to be operated reliably. These tests, carried out overnight during the months of May, June and July 2018, were also used for the driver trainers to familiarise themselves with the route and the operating instructions.
All these tests were efficiently completed, with gauging undertaken by the SYSL infrastructure team and wheel/rail interface monitoring by the Institute of Rail Research from Huddersfield University, while a DB Cargo Class 66 diesel-electric locomotive and a second Citylink both successfully recovered a ‘failed’ tram-train. During the test period it was usefully discovered that in the event of the NR substation being out of action, there was sufficient power from the SYSL overhead supply to enable a Citylink to return under its own power from Parkgate to the tramway. A whole-route risk assessment was also carried out in preparation for the intensive driver training undertaken during July and August.
Assistance with the training covering main line operation was provided by NR and East Midlands Trains (a subsidiary of Stagecoach, which also operates the Supertram network). The final preparation for the start of public service was a period of ghost-running to prove the robustness of the timetable. After two incident-free weeks, the decision to start passenger service was taken, driven by the availability of the Sheffield City Region Mayor and then-Transport Minister Jo Johnson MP.
Lessons learnt and some improvements for the future
Based on this commissioning experience, the following recommendations can be applied for future projects:
• The plan developed for the Citylink provides a useful template for the commissioning and entry into service of tram-train vehicles.
• Such a plan should be developed during the design and build stage to incorporate emerging issues or requirements.
• It should also be closely aligned to the commissioning plan for any associated
• All members of the project alliance should be involved in the plan review process.
• During the test programme, given the innovative nature of tram-train vehicles and their operation, observers from the relevant disciplines in both the tram operator and NR should be in attendance.
• Where overnight possessions are required, careful management is essential to optimise the time available and to avoid delaying either the first tram or train service of the following day.
• Communication with all parties to enable entry into the possession on time is crucial. Late arrival for briefings or at the handover site by critical staff can cause significant delays. Unfortunately, 35-45 minutes delay was not uncommon during the tests.
The combination of the test team, driver trainers and observers onboard the vehicles throughout the programme enabled a number of issues to be managed and modifications to be requested. These included:
• Optimising VIS (Vehicle Identification System) loop magnet positions to improve detection, particularly on curves.
• Optimising the stopping positions at signals and platforms to improve sighting and access.
• Identifying additional or missing infrastructure signage.
• Revised clearances for lineside equipment
• Additional hazards identified through route risk assessment processes.
• Improved positioning of mirrors, particularly at Tinsley Junction access on to the tramway.
• Suggestions to improve briefing on changes to other operators.
• OLE resilience and the associated ability to be less reliant on third-party recovery when power fails at Ickles substation, through coasting or power from SYSL substations.
Additionally, the processes to prevent wrong routing were found to be robust, minimising the risk of either a tram or a train going off route. Where a detection failure occurred it always resulted in the signal not clearing – i.e. right-side failure.
For damaged, missing or incorrectly positioned infrastructure items – crucial for driver route learning – the Close Call system worked very well. This system was launched in 2011 to allow anyone working within the rail industry to record and manage conditions and behaviours that, under different circumstances, could have led to injury or harm. A reporting system from SYSL to the NR Project Manager was used for changes and other points were recorded on observation sheets for later review at the regular learning review meetings.
Following the start of service, a comprehensive set of monitoring and evaluation tests are being undertaken to further improve industry capability to deliver future tram-train schemes; an ongoing review of the timetabled running time has identified some revisions that will improve the service.
So after a tricky passage through governmental changes, cultural differences, deviations to standards and interference from other projects, this pilot is now proving itself to passengers. These lessons can now be used to save money and time on future tram-train and light rail projects around Great Britain.
So let’s celebrate and look forward to tram-train becoming ‘Business as Usual’ in connecting tramways to the country’s railway network.
Although closely resembling the network’s existing 120 vehicles, the latest batch of Flexity M5000 trams for Greater Manchester will add a number of key technical and passenger enhancements for the ever-growing UK system.
Last year the region celebrated 25 years of second-generation tramway operation (see TAUT 960 for its Metrolink @ 25 special) and since May 2014 has been exclusively served by M5000 vehicles supplied by a consortium of Bombardier Transportation and Kiepe Electric. From the first deliveries in December 2009, six tranches of the high-floor trams have replaced the original Firema/Ansaldo T68 and T68A fleet, while also catering for a network that has grown from 31km (19 miles) upon opening to over 97km (60 miles) in 2018. The latest order, placed by Transport for Greater Manchester on 29 June, is worth GBP72m (EUR81m) and will increase fleet capacity by 15%.
Built at Bombardier’s facilities in Bautzen and Vienna, and utilising Kiepe Electric traction equipment and drive systems, the first of the new trams is due in Spring 2020, with subsequent deliveries following on a monthly basis until June 2021.
Passenger enhancements for the latest batch include OEM Wi-Fi connectivity (the rest of the fleet was retrofitted in 2015 as part of a TfGM initiative to provide free Wi-Fi for Metrolink passengers) and energy-efficient LED saloon lighting, alongside a new rail head friction modifier for quieter running and a passenger counting system.
As well as increasing capacity and allowing for enhanced headways, the new trams will also be used for the future Trafford Park line that is due to open in 2020. A major milestone on this new 5.5km (3.4-mile) line was reached in late September with the completion of the laying of beams for a new 29m bridge over the Bridgewater Canal. Installed over a single weekend, the deck is to be completed later in the year to allow tracklaying to begin in 2019.
The first rails were laid at the intu Trafford Centre – terminus of the new GBP350m (EUR393m) line – during the summer, joining similar works at EventCity, Parkway, Village Way and Warren Bruce Road. The Trafford Park line is being funded by Greater Manchester’s ‘Devolution Deal’, signed by city region leaders in 2014.
Safety and subways in Manchester
The growth of Metrolink is one of the undoubted success stories for modern light rail. In its first year of operation, the system carried eight million passengers; by 2010, when the first M5000 trams entered service, ridership had grown to 20m. By 2018, this had more than doubled again to 42m journeys – a growth of 9% from the year before.
The latest tram order is part of the wider ambitions of both Transport for Greater Manchester and Mayor Andy Burnham’s 2040 Transport Strategy, which also aims to encourage sustainability through greater promotion of cycling and walking allied to approaches aimed at improving air quality.
By 2040 the population of the conurbation is expected to rise to three million, with annual Metrolink journeys set to surpass 50m.
In announcing the order, Mr Burnham said: “Greater Manchester is growing. That means more jobs, more people and more demand on our public transport networks and these new trams will be a very welcome – and much needed – addition to the Metrolink fleet.”
Then Bombardier UK Managing Director Richard Hunter, commented: ‘‘We are proud to support Andy Burnham’s aim of encouraging people across the city-region to leave their cars at home.”
Bombardier has delivered around half of the UK’s modern light rail vehicles over the last two decades, supplying systems in Croydon, Nottingham, Manchester, Blackpool and London’s Docklands Light Railway.
Due to its primary use of repurposed heavy rail infrastructure, with additional street-running sections, the high-floor M5000 is a unique model tailored to the specific needs of Metrolink, while also benefiting from the ongoing development of Bombardier’s Flexity family of trams in use in cities worldwide.
With a length of 28.4m, each tram has a capacity of 206 (at four passengers/m²) and they regularly operate in double consists on the system’s busiest services. The addition of 27 new vehicles will allow this operational flexibility to be cascaded to further routes as ridership grows in the coming years.
With impressive reliability in terms of 0mean distance between service failures, the M5000 has become the iconic yellow and silver face of Metrolink. Since the vehicles’ introduction, the fleet has clocked up 67.5m/km in passenger service.
Danny Vaughan, Head of Metrolink at TfGM, said: “Metrolink sits at the heart of Greater Manchester’s sustainable transport network, carrying more than 42m journeys every year. That means less congestion on our streets and less pollution in our air.
“These enhancements to the new trams will help improve our passengers’ journeys, in particular the new on-board counting system, which will provide us the data so that we can adapt and improve the network to better serve our customers’ needs.”
Looking to the future, TfGM is already considering further Metrolink expansion options, as well as tram-train solutions.
With rolling stock choices determined by the system’s origins, the benefits of high-floor may yet prove to still to be fully realised. Greater Manchester’s fleet lends itself more obviously to tram-train operation than some others in the country that are primarily
low-floor, as it removes the need for dual floor height vehicles.
Article originally appeared in TAUT 972 (Dec 2018).