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Un tour de tramways

by DoDo Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 02:31:03 PM EST

A Strasbourg tram of the original Eurotram type (one of the first all-low-floors, built by ABB's Italian branch, now Bombardier) reaches the Pont Saint-Nicolas on line A on an August Sunday morning

BruceMcF asked our help in debunking the anti-light-rail arguments of a strange US lobby group, which advocates buses over fixed guideway public transport. The occasion was a proposed light rail tunnel under Seattle, attacked this time with the CO2 emissions argument(!).

I was delayed by other duties before he posted the resulting dKos diary, still, I post some comments here, illustrated with my light rail observations during my summer holiday in Austria, France and Germany.

I won't repeat all the spin and numbers-twisting others exposed, I'll make some more general points instead.

First, on CO2 emissions associated with a light-rail (or any rail) line. The mayor sources are:

  1. power generation for the vehicles,
  2. manufacture of the vehicles (from mining the metal to transporting the finished product),
  3. powering the track construction vehicles and machines,
  4. the concrete in fixed infrastructures.

CO2 emission of the first and in part the third (e.g. tunnel boring machines, some drilling jumbos) depends on the share of generation modes behind the electricity used. It may be near zero. The per passenger-mile contribution of the last three, especially the last two, depends on depreciation time, e.g. how long the vehicle/built structure is in use. The calculation is not straightforward if we consider what will be only a sub-section of a longer line (as the Seattle tunnel will be).

Now, long depreciation times wouldn't be anything special for rail systems. For example, there is Vienna's system. Most lines are over a century old, and while Vienna also has the 100%-low-floor ULF type with its special single-wheeled system, still maybe half the well-maintained vehicles are of a type delivered from 1959.

No. 4731, an older E¹-type Vienna tram crosses the bridge over the Vienna creek where it reaches the Danube

It is also noteworthy that these anti-light-rail propagandists act as if experience with mass transit outside North America is irrelevant, ignoring that all the hundred or two European city councils deciding on keeping or building anew light rail must have had their reasons.

Unless the goal is to hold back public transport by advocating its least attractive and smallest-capacity mode, it is also mystifying why they consider buses and light rail as alternatives. In addition to the trams, Vienna also has a dense bus network, a subway network that is a mix of heavy and light metro, two overland tram lines, a rapid transit/commuter network on normal rails (S-Bahn) that also cris-crosses the city between the many main stations, and normal local trains.

The anti-rail types also advocated bikes. To make that a viable and safe alternative, of course they'd need infrastructure (preferably taken away from cars). Vienna has it, and more: Vienna's Citybike was the first modern rent-a-bike system (in 2003; Lyon's larger vélo'v system, much more noticed in the English-language media, followed two years later). It was created a year after a for-free bike rental system (Copenhagen model), which failed due to bike theft, a problem the new system solved with magnetic cards and user identification.

Citybike station Johannesgasse, on the corner of said street and the Parkring, one of the 54 stations of the system. As the empty stands indicate, lots of bikes were in use, in fact you can barely see a couple that just took away two at the street corner

Later on the streets in Frankfurt, I saw rent-a-bikes of a different system in use: ones rented by the German Railways. Next time there I'll use it.

Lower CO2 emissions aren't the only potential environmental benefit of light rail. There are noxious gases, and there is noise – imagine living in this street with bus traffic instead of the tram:

On line B, a new Citadis 403 (made by Alstom) travels along Strasbourg's Rue du Vieux Marché aux Vins with a silent swoosh in the early morning. The futuristic all-glass streamlined heads of the Eurotrams so much determined the image of the system and the city, that the newer 'colleagues' from the rival producer got similar heads

Strasbourg's traffic company, which also runs an extensive and expanding bus network, re-started its tram system in 1994, and achieved a reduction of downtown car traffic by 17% in the first few years (while elsewhere the general trend was upwards). Presently 39 km long with five lines (the last created a week after I was there) and wildly popular, it is still in expansion. This system is used as rapid transit, a fast core network for public transport in the city of 275,000. There is a tunnel section that includes the station under the main railway station, and future lines will go well out of the city (a tram-train, Karlsruhe system).

I had to ride in it myself.

Inside a Citadis 403 set on line A after boarding in station Porte de l'Hôpital. A rather spartan look inside, but comfortable

Shortly after, on the curve up the Pont Saint-Nicolas

I saw an even more dramatic example of how light rail can change a city after a TGV ride to Le Mans. With a budget of €290 million, the city of 145,000 builds a two-line network of 15 km. Construction work was nearly finished when I was there (opening is tabled for 17 November).

Le Mans, Boulevard René Levasseur: the tram tracks narrowed down a main road to a single-lane taxi road

The tramway's path was taken away from the cars – which in itself forced a dramatic change of transport modes already before opening. For now, that means more people walking & cycling, and that in much less noise and more attractive environment than in the next main street without tram.

The tramway is classless: it accesses both richer areas in the centre and the south-east, and poorer areas in the west of the city. Walking towards the west, it was most visible how the tramway changes its environment, too:

Looking back at Rue Gambetta from near its western end. Note that virtually all house fronts were re-painted, and most shops were under renovation or newly under installation. What was a grey street of depreciated homes (like Rue Fleury to the left) is becoming an amenable shopping & café street

While Le Mans and Strasbourg are small enough to have light rail as the core network of their public transport, in larger cities, they are better suited for secondary routes, especially orbital routes. Paris's new T1, T2 and T3 light rail lines serve such a purpose around the core city.

When crossing Paris on my mad rush, I saw work on the extension of the T2 line (which is to the west of the centre), and got a glimpse of what I think was a spur of the T1 line in the north, and the not yet one-year-old T4 'tram-train' nearby.

Frankfurt is a medium-size city, which had both tramways and S-Bahn normal rail rapid transit. Part of the former was moved underground to create a light metro system, but surface lines remained, too. When I lived in/near Frankfurt, almost two decades ago, old post-war vehicles and seventies stock in less attractive orange/beige rolled over them. Now all seem to have been replaced with new low-floor trams in turquoise.

New type S tram No. 223 (a Bombardier Flexity) in front of the European Central Bank headquarters. Even the upper-class can travel on public transport. But the advertisement of a car maintenance company is not the best combination...

:: :: :: :: ::

Check the Train Blogging index page for a (hopefully) complete list of ET diaries and stories related to railways and trains.

More travelogue to follow.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 02:32:53 PM EST
Thanks for this diary. I have friends in Le Mans now I know when I'll visit them :).

Do you know what is the passenger capacity of a tramway used in Le Mans and expected energy use per km of a fully loaded tramway?

by Laurent GUERBY on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 04:28:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With capacity, do you mean one line, or the full network? The former is 209 for the Citadis 302 vehicles, the latter is 50,000/day.

I don't know enough about operating conditions to say something definite about energy use, especially per km. You can get a rough value from

  • the vehicle's power: 4x120kW = 480 kW
  • the first opened line will be c. 12 km with a 38 minute travel time, so travel speed is c. 20 km/h

E.g., what you look for must be below 24 kWh/km. Regarding operating conditions: due to accelerations (when motors run at full power) and short distances, not to mention elevation in Le Mans, I am pretty certain that energy use is high, say 50% of the above calculated maximum. What I don't know is to what extent regenerative electric braking is used in modern trams, if at all.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 05:41:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, I meant for one train. The passenger/day figure depends on number of train bought plus minimum safety/practical delay between train (plus first and last train hours :).

For electric cars the energy use is about 100-160 Wh/km, your approximate figure is 115 Wh/km/passenger for a fully loaded Citadis 302.

Electric cars do have regenerative breaking which I assume Citadis doesn't have (no battery / no injection).

As I've said on ET I don't know why train don't appear that efficient in energy use (they have many other advantages of course but that's not my point here).

As usual if you know where to get real world electricity usage for electric train and tramways in front of passenger*km, I'm interested.

kcurie link says for Citadis 302 in Spain:

19 vehicles work on the TramBaix network, with 18 similar Citadis 302 LRVs on Trambesos. The 32.3m-long trams are 100% low-floor, air-conditioned, and can carry up to 218 passengers (72 seated). The trams were built at Alstom's plant in the city, and are maintained at depots at Sant Joan Despì (Trambaix) and Sant Adria de Besos (Trambesos).

by Laurent GUERBY on Sun Sep 9th, 2007 at 07:53:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, I meant for one train.

Me too (that about "one line" was a braintzypo :-))

Electric cars do have regenerative breaking which I assume Citadis doesn't have (no battery / no injection).

No, electric trains don't feed back into a battery, but into the catenary. With the spread of AC motors and modern power electronics, using the motors as generators is no problem. However, the system is most efficient and convenient if the catenary is on a rail-only AC grid, and least if it is fed DC (limited uptake, adverse effects of change in voltage) -- and trams are fed DC.

However, with some search, I found the new trams do use regenerative braking, even if to a limited extent. I now found that one light rail project on Tenerife, which calculated with Citadis trains (and wind turbines as power source), expects 20% energy savings from regenerative braking.

I don't know why train don't appear that efficient in energy use

Because the bus (and plane) advocates' numbers are spun?

I should dig up numbers about this, I long promised the same on high-speed trains to Luis de Sousa too, but certainly not on the workdays this week, I'm too busy.

kcurie link says for Citadis 302 in Spain:

Note: even trains/trams of the same model can differ strongly (not only in front styling and seating, but carbody width). Modular construction makes it possible.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 03:11:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So there is a Citadis model that does power injection, interesting! The 20% is in range with the numbers for electric cars (up to 35% depending on the cycle).

For comparison I mostly refer to electric car numbers which do exist for a wide variety of cars (including cars in use by customers) and are all more or less the same so I think we can trust them.

A few diaries ago I said I would ask http://www.effet-de-serre.gouv.fr/ and they just answered me today citing page 33 of this PDF:


Which gives the following relative energy use for passenger-km:

Walk/bike 0
Paris Tramways 0.10
Paris subway 0.13
Paris RER 0.14
Paris "banlieue" trains 0.21
Paris area buses 0.44
France buses 0.56
Motorcycle 0.62
Individual car 1.0

(I don't know if the car data is for one passenger only ... these "green" paper could be more informative).

by Laurent GUERBY on Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 02:37:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, interesting set of data! I think I have something similar for Germany somewhere, will look up in the uncertain future.

So there is a Citadis model that does power injection

The way I understand it, it an inherent feature (it should be with IGBT inverters), and use depends on whether the tram line power supply was made suited. With some more search, I found other examples of active use (Rotterdam, Sydney, Basel, etc.), so it may not be uncommon. Recovery rates are usually low, but in Basel, a phenomenal 41.6% was achieved with Siemens Combinos in a test. The latter link also gives you kWh/km figures (page 8).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 03:14:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great finding!

If I do the math on the Basel data:

  • 18908 - 7870 = 11038 kWh consumed
  • 7215.70 km with average 65 passenger
  • gives 23.5 Wh per passenger-km.

So better than car with 2 passenger which is around 50-80 Wh/km-passenger.
by Laurent GUERBY on Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 03:33:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
today precisely the  last three stops of T5.. the line of tram 5 in Barcelona have been opened..... to great fanfarre... or sort of...



I hope you like it Dodo.. well I am sure you will..

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 04:55:14 PM EST

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 06:26:42 PM EST
For DoDo

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 09:39:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, I have seen it and the other the night you posted, but in such a hurry I didn't have time even for recommends.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 04:12:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, this was for you! Apparently posted during your 24-hour absence.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 08:49:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Merci ... though the BRT versus Trains was a side discussion from the commentary in the dKos discussion of the Seattle article ... that diary hit the reclist, and as happens in that case, the commentary ranged far and wide over a range of rail related topics.

The author of the particular Seattle article was using bikes and carpooling and vanpooling as what should be done "instead of" rail in Seattle. Of course, its all a shell game, where if there was any ballot issue trying to raise money to support any of those, the "Coalition for Transport Alternatives" would certainly not be leading the charge to get the issue passed.

However, in the Eurotrib version of the Trains and BRT should be friends diary, Migeru presented what I take as a quite striking argument for trains over BRT ... if even a steam train can beat a BRT ... what could a Sparkie do!

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 09:50:11 PM EST
Your original dKos diary also hit the reclist! (Belated congrats!) At least when I recced it, at a time it had almost 200 comments, it was just the last diary on the rec list.

I am trying to read today a number of diaries I had no time for in the past week (when on most days I had to stay up at 5 or 4 o'clock and returned home at 20h, with other stuff waiting for me on the computer), your newer ones among them.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 03:24:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Awesome diary, DoDo.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 10:20:42 PM EST
This gets brought up on occasion but is worth repeating. In the US, with the exception of rush hour commuters going to work downtown, you cannot get middle class Americans on busses. They are considered transit for the poor. Light rail and trains in general, though, are acceptable to the middle class. Light rail is associated with cleanliness, urban renewal, and sophistication. Busses are loud, dirty, and polluting, and to some extent considered a relic of the past, I think, in addition to the class overtones.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 11:10:50 PM EST
... onto Bus Rapid Transit to a certain extent ... but as I try to discuss in my diary, even the BRT practitioners guide presumes (without presenting supporting evidence) that it is at best 5/6 of the intrinsic appeal of rail.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Sep 9th, 2007 at 03:33:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was told about this, and its strong race angle, by someone from Atlanta only a year or two ago.

That something milder seems to exist on Paris suburban trains, too, I brought up in my previous diary, but it produced no discussion. On Midday and early afternoon trains (I travelled on four), 'white Frenchmen' were almost completely absent, but not so in the two rush hour trains I took. I'm not sure what this is a symptom for.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 03:18:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the "dirty jobs" with freaky hours, such as cleaning, security, etc... are predominantly "black people" jobs (as they are the least attractive jobs). On the 2 am buses too, you get a mix of people coming back from parties and sleepy workers, who are predominantly black skinned.

There are also the differential jobless rates to account for.

Car use is small in Paris ; only half of the Paris intra muros population even has a car.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Sep 12th, 2007 at 07:58:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That something milder seems to exist on Paris suburban trains, too, I brought up in my previous diary, but it produced no discussion.

What are you talking about?  There are no ethnicities in France.  There are just "French people".

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Wed Sep 12th, 2007 at 08:20:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An excellent diary thanks, DoDo.  The technical details escape me but I always find your diaries very readable. In fact when I travel, I always think of you and take photos of trains etc when I remember.  Then I completely forget to post them!
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Sep 9th, 2007 at 09:21:30 AM EST
that the reason Johannesburg has such wide roads is because they removed all trams during the early sixties... That will come to haunt them...

Great pics. I miss trams.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 02:59:13 PM EST

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