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Light Rail for better public transport

Paris backs vast tramway expansion

By C. J. Wansbeek

Light rail has a bright future in the City of Light. In Paris innovations take shape, almost with the speed of light. Tramway construction will be speeded up, and the overall length of the Parisian tramway system will triple, with 60 km of new lines to be built before 2008. At present, there are two tram lines at Paris, both extremely successful, both nearing saturation levels. Line T1 (St Denis-Bobigny), inaugurated in 1992, now carries 80 000 passengers daily; line T2 (La Défense-Issy Val-du-Seine), inaugurated as recently as 1997, already carries 55 000 per day. The overwhelming success of these lines has convinced everyone. Trams are what the city wants.

A 1992 Alstom-built partly low-floor tram on service T1 to Saint-Denis. RATP

In May 2000, final agreement was reached on a new six-year plan for Ile-de-France (Greater Paris). It comprises all public projects, ranging from sports, employment, tourism, universities to public transport and road building. This is France, with its excellent reputation for planning and realising new infrastructure.

Two of the 1996-built Alstom trams for line T2 at the Issy Val-de-Seine terminus. (C. J. Wansbeek

The package is the Plan Contract. Since 1983, such contracts are concluded between the State and all regions of France. The leading region is Ile-de-France, which will get FRF 60 000 million under the Plan for the 2002-2008 period. A total of FRF 38 000 million is allocated to the transport sector. Of this, FRF 26 000 million (63%) will be spent on public transport infrastructure. This is a doubling of the amount for public transport in comparison with the preceding Plan. The Plan does not cover operating deficits, for which there are other revenue subsidy arrangements. So building new tram lines as well as operating them should pose no problem. The Plan Contract provides money for the construction of 60 km of tram lines, 22 km of bus lanes on reservation, plus 10 km of metro lines.

The Plan Contract gives priority to public transport, with the emphasis on new surface lines. Included is the long-awaited track link between lines T1 and T2. This new link is a part of a much bigger blueprint. Fresh money will be spent on improving the quality of bus services in suburban areas, by creating many new connections between suburban areas, which lie like a swathe around Paris. A top priority has been given to strengthening the infrastructure of orbital tram and bus lines linking the suburbs with each other. All tram lines will be standard-gauge, double-track, entirely on reservation, like almost all new tram lines of France. Most new bus lanes will also be on reservation.

The Contract Plan also covers the extension, to be inaugurated in 2005, of the fully-automated metro line 14, also known as METEOR, from Bibliothèque to Olympiades. Under an earlier plan, the short extension of line 14 to Saint-Lazare railway station had already been financed (it is due to open in mid-2003). Furthermore, the TVM, the long bus lane on reservation in south-east Paris, will be extended from Marché du Rungis to Croix de Berny (in 2003). Moreover, several extensions of the classic metro system will be undertaken:

However, it is trams that come first under the Contract Plan, a total of 60 km of new lines, as mentioned above. The most spectacular vision is that of creating a circular tram line, with a length of 77 km, by linking both existing tram lines, and then further extending these at both extremities. Step by step, these lines would grow into one full circle. A number of different tram services might use this circular line, but there will not be one though-routed 77-km light rail service.

The following steel-wheel and rubber-tyred 'tramway' extensions are financed under the new Plan Contract:
  • La Défense - Pont de Bezons (tram line T2)
  • Saint-Denis - Gennevilliers - Le Luth - Colombes (T1)
  • Bobigny - Noisy-le-Sec (T1)
  • Noisy-le-Sec - Val de Fontenay (T1)
  • Saint-Denis - Epinay - Villetaneuse (Université)
  • Villejuif - Juvisy
  • Châtillon - Vélizy - Viroflay
  • Issy Val de Seine - Paris (two options: to Balard or to Porte de Versailles) (T2)
  • Boulevard Victor - Porte d'Ívry (via Boulevards des Maréchaux)

The circular line is now formally approved under the terms of the Plan Contract. The French have a word for it: Rocade, a military term, meaning full circle. The circle line is now referred to as Rocade Grand Tram. To reach the full 77-km length, 55 km of new tram line have to be built. To make progress in the direction of the Rocade Grand Tram, the Plan Contract provides the money for the following new stretches, with a total length of 25 km:

  1. a very long extension of T1 in a wide arch through north Paris, from the current terminus at Saint-Denis to reach Colombes in north-west Paris. Already underway, as part of the previous Plan Contract, is the southward extension of T1, from Bobigny to Noisy-le-Sec (due to open by the end of 2002). The new Plan Contract also includes a further 15-stop 8-km long extension from Noisy-le-Sec to Val de Fontenay;
  2. two extensions of T2. One is from Issy Val de Seine to Porte de Versailles. At present two possibilities to realise this extension are being investigated. The first option would consist of an extension from Balard using a part of the disused alignment of the Petite Ceinture, the circular passenger railway line which was closed long ago. Alternatively, this extension could take the form of new tracks to Balard and Porte de Versailles using a street parallel to the Boulevard Périphérique. This latter option is preferred by the local authorities, who feel that the tracks of the Petite Ceinture are only metres away from the surrounding houses, in a densely built-up residential area. So a tram over Petite Ceinture is seen as being not in line with environmental considerations;
  3. The second is at its northern end, where T2 will be extended to Pont de Bezons. As early as 2006, T2 will have become a real north-south Super Tram, from Balard (or Porte de Versailles) all the way to Pont de Bezons, with a total travel time of 40 minutes. Headways will be 4 minutes, so the passenger-carrying capacity will be enormous;
  4. Another tram line, called 'Tramway des Maréchaux' will be created over the Boulevards des Maréchaux, a succession of attractive wide roads, all bearing the names of Napoleonic generals, between Boulevard Victor and Porte d'êvry, to be inaugurated by 2006. The recently-elected Mayor of Paris is in favour of a rapid extension of the 'Tramway des Maréchaux', at both extremities, to serve eastern and northern parts of Paris.
A map of the Paris region showing the tramway proposals in red, metro extensions in blue and busways in green. Existing tramways T1 and T2 are shown as thin red lines, and the TVM busway in thin green. The black lines are SNCF or RER rail lines (plus the OrlyVAL mini-metro). Services through the former Renault factory site at Billancourt is shown orange as Tramway on tyres. (RATP [Click on map for larger version]

The Plan Contract outlines yet another rail circle, much wider than the Rocard Grand Tram. This is the 100-km long Grande Ceinture, over which a new through-going passenger service will be introduced, on tracks owned by SNCF, the State railways. Already there is passenger service on the southern part of the Grande Ceinture. These services run from Versailles to Juvisy and Choisy le Roi to Massy Palaiseau. The first step will be to re-introduce passenger services between Poissy and Noissy le Sec, which will require the laying of new tracks, compatible with the demands of freight traffic which will be continued.

Line T2 follows the former suburban rail alignment for most of its length, permitting a high commercial speed, though pedestrian access across the tracks at stopping points is the norm. (C. J. Wansbeek

The Rocades as well as the Grande Ceinture will, at several points, be equipped with multi-modal interchanges. Trams, buses, city metro, regional metro and suburban railways come together, for cross-platform interchange in spacious stations. Under the Plan Contract, eight such multi-modal interchanges will be built, at a total cost of FRF 1300 million. This stimulates coherence between all forms of transport, as one customer-friendly system, with an emphasis on rail. In quality and sheer size, it probably surpasses any other metropolitan transport network.

According to Monsieur Philippe Ventéjol of the RATP Planning Department, modern trams show a 'dynamisme étonnant' (surprising dynamism). He notes that since 1978, 60 new tramway networks have been built all over the world. Most new tram lines world-wide were built on reservation, modern trams offer fast and regular service. Trams can smoothly be integrated with pedestrianised streets in historic inner cities, and also, trams can run over existing railways. City planning and tramway development go hand-in-hand, he says. Trams are almost noiseless, do not pollute and can easily be mixed with 'circulations douces' (soft traffic, i.e. pedestrians and cyclists). If you want to upgrade a residential area, then a tram line can contribute to a structural solution, says Monsieur Ventéjol. For the Paris city planners, the tram is an instrument of social and economic upgrading.

A 1997 scene on the Trans-Val-du-Marne busway showing to the left the centre guidance rail for the Bombardier TVR rubber-tyred tram which was then on trial, and has since failed spectacularly in Nancy.(RATP/Marguerite

The terminology can be confusing. When an RATP official talks of 'tramway', he may refer of a steel-wheel tram, but, equally, he may have a guided bus on a single guidance rail in mind. No misunderstanding, the two Rocade (circular line) will be built as a 'real' steel-wheel tram line. However, several branch lines may be built as 'Tramway sur Pneu'. In the terminology of RATP, the term 'Tramway sur Pneu' is strictly confined to TVR and Translohr vehicles (see text in box). So the following 'tram lines' within the Plan Contract will be built in the form of 'Tramway sur Pneu' and NOT as steel-wheel tram lines:

Studies are underway to find out whether two other stretches can be built in the form of a 'Tramway sur Pneu':

Since 1997, the RATP uses a 1.4-km section of the TVM (Trans Val-de-Marne is SE Paris) as a testing ground for guided buses. This section was chosen because it includes a long ramp with a 5% gradient. Here rubber-tyred vehicles built by the French industry can be tested under normal operational conditions. The reactions of the passengers and the operating staff are analysed. The decision-makers can thus examine the various systems offered on the testing site in real operating conditions. Many delegations of foreign experts have been invited to come and see the TVM experiments with their own eyes.

The experiments follow each other. After a testing period, the steel guidance rail is lifted and is replaced by an entirely different type of guidance rail, to suit the next type of vehicle, to be tested for another period of six months. Three types of vehicles were selected to undergo testing at the TVM: first the TVR, developed by Bombardier-ANF and SPIE-Enertrans (tested at the TVM between November 1997 and January 2000). The TVR is an articulated bus on rubber tyres, under an overhead wire, and guided by a single steel guidance rail. The TVR is also equipped with a diesel engine. The TVR will soon be in regular service at Nancy and Caen. Then came the Translohr vehicle, built by Lohr Industries. Technically the Translohr is a nephew of the TVR. The third is the Civis, developed by Iris Bus and Matra-Siemens. Civis is an optically guided bus. In the course of 2001, the Civis has been introduced at Rouen and Clermont-Ferrand.

Behind closed doors, the planning authorities of Paris are currently engaged in an intense exchange of views on pros and cons of steel-wheel vehicles in comparison with rubber-tyred vehicles. There is a strong feeling among many Parisian transport planners that rubber-tyred vehicles should be preferred, in order to avoid noise and vibrations in the narrow streets of the city centre. However, experimental guided bus trials performed on the TVM, Trans Val-de-Marne in SE Paris, has shown that there is no marked difference in noise levels between steel-wheeled and rubber-tyred vehicles respectively riding on straight tracks. It has been decided that follow-up experiments should take place, focussing on noise levels in tight curves.

A driver's-eye view on the Bobigny--Saint-Denis line, showing the cab of the Alstom car (RATP

At present, there is a fleet of 44 identical articulated trams for use on T1 and T2. It has been decided that 60 new trams will be ordered for line T2 and its extension. It will be operated by coupled sets of new Alstom Citadis trams. All existing T2 platforms will be extended to a length of 60 m, and all new platforms will be built to that size. Coupled sets of two articulated vehicles will soon become the new standard. For use on tram line T1 a fleet of 35 trams of the existing TFS class will be completely refurbished. This mid-life overhaul will include the installation of air conditioning. No choice has been made concerning the rolling stock for the future 'Tramway des Maréchaux', which is expected to become one of the busiest public transport routes of Paris. For this line, RATP will need vehicles with a length of 43 m, in order to cope with transport demand.

Further decisions recently taken include approved plans to enlarge both existing tram depots, at Bobigny (T1) and Moulineaux Billancourt (T2) respectively). A third, entirely new tram depot will be built at Colombes-La Marine, to serve both T2 and, after it further westward extension, also line T1 This third tram depot will be located at the same site as the future Urban Transport Museum of Paris. A fourth and a fifth tram depot are currently being planned, to built in the Saint Denis area of north Paris, and Virty in south Paris, respectively.

At present, the only stretch of tram line under construction is between Bobigny/Picasso and Noisy-le-Sec, due for completion by late 2002. Construction of one of or more other new lines may commence in late 2003. The intention is to start building as many new tram lines as possible simultaneously, with the aim of completing them by 2006/7.

The author expresses his gratitude to Mister Philippe Ventéjol of RATP, who provided much valuable information and who also helped update the first draft of this text.

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