Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group 


APRIL 2002 



During 1995 Paris was the host city for the 51st Congress of the International Union of Public Transport, an event giving many the opportunity to see for themselves the rubber-tyred and automated Meteor Metro under construction and a new tramway in operation between St. Denis and Bobigny. Also of interest would be the existing Metro network and the RER in operation throughout the capital.


Plans for the 9-km St. Denis to Bobigny tramway, now fully opened, go back quite a few years, delayed partly by political obstacles and funding difficulties (1) and eventually opened to the public in 1992. Being the first of its kind in Paris for many years, it was closely monitored to see if it lived up to expectations. Its initial section, the 3.6 -km between Bobigny-Pablo Picasso and La Courneuve, generated a patronage level of 52,500 per day. This figure compared particularly well with the forecast of 55,000 for the full service, which at that time had not been introduced. Further comparisons showed that when fully opened the trams were much faster than the buses they replaced and further improvements were anticipated as priority at traffic lights was introduced (2).

Thanks to fewer accidents than with the previous bus service, clearer road markings, easier passenger access and segregated tracks, safety generally has been appreciably improved.


The La Défense - Issy Val de Seine railway line, built for the Universal Exposition in 1889 and later modernised with 750V DC third rail electrification, had continued to be operated with an infrequent service and old rolling stock, and as such had become a target for vandalism, especially to the station buildings. Turning it into a tramway was a major challenge because it needed firstly to be more accessible and secondly to act as a high-quality suburban link between RER lines, as well as servicing some existing and future commercial centres. From these conflicting requirements emerged the Tram Val- de- Seine (TVS) project. This line, 11.3 km with 13 stations, opened in 1997 as T2, and makes use of identical rolling stock to the standard low-floor design used on T1 from St. Denis to Bobigny. Operating at peak frequencies of 5 minutes, 10 minutes off-peak, T2 benefits also from longer gaps between stations and achieves a considerably improved commercial speed which in turn shortens the journey time. This was the perfect recipe for a high patronage response and although 25,000 per day was the forecast demand, the actual figure was reported to be 29,000 (3).


After this major success with urban tramway operation, the next move was expansion. Experience already gained meant some major policy decisions needed to be made to ensure that the public transport network did not stagnate because of serious overloading.

With conditions approaching gridlock in the busiest areas, it was essential that public transport retained its high quality : "People cannot be forced to use it, they must want to" (4). Although road space for a tramway or reserved bus route will be protected whenever the opportunity arises, the advantages of a rubber-tyred "tram" running on a single rail ("tramway sur pneu") cannot be overlooked. These could include less transmission noise and vibration imposed on the surrounding fabric of the city. There would also be an advantage in operation over steeper grades than would be possible with steel on steel vehicles. Nevertheless the steel-on-steel tram has already had a spectacular start over the rubber-tyred "tram", which needs to cover a lot of ground to be a serious contender.


"Guided bus is an intermediary system between conventional buses and trams. It is a transport system which is either always guided, except possibly in the depot or workshop areas, or truly bimodal (guided or autonomous). A guided bus normally runs on purpose-built concrete, wooded or metal tracks and has a steering system consisting of two independently functioning circuits. With the help of mechanical, electronic or electromagnetic track guidance, buses can be driven automatically (that is without continuous manual control) but the driver can also choose to switch off the automatic steering mechanism and the bus can be driven in the 'normal' way. The driver only controls the acceleration and braking. It runs as a 'tram' where necessary and as a bus where the road space is sufficient (RATP 1997). Several types of power and power-supply can exist or coexist, primarily electric and diesel".


The test track at Trans-Val-de-Marne in Paris, with an actual guidance length of 1.5 km, has existed since 1997. The GLT/TVR vehicle (Guided Light Transit/Train Sur Voie Réservée) was built by Bombardier and when in guidance mode uses small metal wheels to engage in a centrally placed groove. The basic parameters of the low-floor vehicle are : 24.5 m long, 2.5 m wide and running on 4 axles.

The Translohr vehicle, with similar dimensions to the TVR, has also been tested on the Trans-Val-de-Marne test track but uses two front wheels set at a slight angle to engage a rail embedded centrally in the guideway. A strong contender in this battle for tram/bus recognition is the Civis produced by the Renault-Matra Bus Tramway Project. The Civis is 2.55 m wide and produced in lengths of 12, 19.5 and possibly 24.5 m. It uses an optical guidance system that uses a camera and video monitoring equipment developed by Matra Transport.


The existing length of tramway in Paris is expected to triple with 60 km of new lines to be built before 2008. The success of T1 (St. Denis - Bobigny), now carrying 80,000 passengers daily and T2 (La D‚fense - Issy Val de Seine) carrying 55,000 passengers daily, has convinced everyone that trams are what the city wants.

Among the more spectacular proposals are the long- awaited track link between lines T1 and T2 and a 77 km circular tram line actually involving 55 km of new tram track. This Circle line, now referred to as Rocade Grand Tram (Rocade is a military term meaning a full circle), will at several points be equipped with multi-modal interchanges with trams, buses, Metro, RER and suburban railways. The terminology used in France may be somewhat confusing because an RATP official talking of a "tramway" may. be referring to a steel-wheel tram or a "tramway sur pneu" (6). Although the Parisian transport planners remain undecided about the merits of the two types of tramway, the successes of both T1 and T2 should ensure that most extensions and new lines will probably be to the steel wheel type whilst a "pneu" application will most likely occur on routes with a terrain unsuitable for the steel wheel tram.


Although the technical development of the "tramway sur pneu" is a major scientific break-through, its actual application and public acceptance remains to be put to the test. All the signs in technical documents and engineering reports on this new type of tramway point to a sceptical attitude by planners and academics because experiments so far conducted do not appear to have met with the success that those involved had hoped for. This could change if Nancy eventually resolves its current difficulties in keeping the vehicle "captive".


  1. RAILWAY GAZETTE INTERNATIONAL- September 1989- page 641.
  2. DEVELOPING METROS 1995 - Railway Gazette Yearbook - page 9.
  3. TRANSIT AUSTRALIA - September 1998.
  4. DEVELOPING METROS 1995 - Railway Gazette Yearbook - page 8.
  5. BUS OR LIGHT RAIL : MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE - Carmen Hass-Klau et al - Environment and Transport Planning - April 2000 - page 7.
  6. TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - February 2002 - pages 52 to 55.
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