Light rail heavyweight
SUSAN EVANS and NICK PHILLIPS of Alstom explain to PAUL STEPHEN why Nottingham’s and Dublin’s light rail systems are held up as examples of the firm’s finest works to date
Alstom demonstrates how tram systems in Dublin and Nottingham have attracted global recognition.
Alstom is an undisputed global market leader when it comes to providing metro and light rail solutions, having developed projects in some of the world’s most populous cities.
Having supplied more than 50 clients, Alstom has made its mark from Sydney to Sao Paulo, Milan to Manila and Athens to Algiers, deploying its full portfolio of turnkey solutions, including the design and building of infrastructure, through to the supply and ongoing maintenance of rolling stock.
But the two projects that Alstom considers to be its most emblematic are much closer to home. They act as international showcases for the company’s ability to exceed customer expectations, and bring continuous improvement to the cities these systems serve.
These exemplars for best practice in light rail are in Nottingham and Dublin, which Alstom describes to RAIL as ‘jewels in the crown’ for demonstrating excellence and acting as test beds for many of the company’s latest innovations.
Beginning with the East Midlands, it was in Nottingham that Alstom played a central part in facilitating a £ 570 million extension to Nottingham Express Transit (NET), adding two new lines measuring a combined 17.5km, that more than doubled the size of the network once they opened in August 2015. Almost formed part of the consortium that was awarded a 22-year contract in 2011 to design and build the extension (known as NET Phase Two) and then to take over the operation of all three NET lines upon completion. It also supplied 22 of its Citadis trams to bolster the existing fleet of 15 Bombardier-built Incentros, and now maintains all 37 vehicles at the newly expanded Wilkinson Street depot.
As well as demonstrating Alstom’s ability to maintain a mixed fleet, NET Phase Two features a number of unique design features, where Alstom engineers were challenged to develop innovative and bespoke solutions.
This included mitigating the effects of noise and vibration with floating slab track where NET passes Nottingham University’s main campus and research areas, and addressing the issue of electromagnetic compatibility, where overhead wires and communications systems had the potential
It would be good to get cities such as Leeds and Liverpool to think more about tramways. Susan Evans, Managing Director, Urban & Services, Alstom UK & Ireland
to affect sensitive scientific and electrical equipment at the Queen’s Medical Centre (QMC) hospital.
“The NET line to Beeston and Chilwell is the first operational tram line in the UK to run past a hospital,” says Susan Evans, Managing Director, Urban & Services, Alstom UK & Ireland. “And at the tram stop for the QMC you’ll see that each of the OLE [overhead line equipment] masts are individually fed. That’s designed to limit any potential impact from any electromagnetic compatibility issues which, of course, we wouldn’t want in the vicinity of a hospital.
“Hopefully we might now see other lines get to run past hospitals because, certainly in my experience, trying to park at hospitals is horrendous and often very expensive, so if public transport connections can be improved, then everyone benefits.”
Nottingham is also the only place in the UK where Alstom has used its automated track laying solution Appitrack.
Appitrack consists of a convoy of machines synchronised using a 3D guidance system to lay concrete track slabs and the baseplates which hold the rails in place.
It is said to be three to four times quicker than traditional manual methods, while increasing safety, site cleanliness and accuracy by being less labour-intensive, as well as generating less noise and dust.
It can lay 80 metres of track per day on average, which increases to between 300400 metres per day in favourable conditions, for example dry weather and a straight alignment.
During construction of NET Phase Two in 2014, several of Alstom’s other clients
from across the globe were invited to visit worksites in Nottingham to see Appitrack in action, before being deployed in their own cities.
Evans adds: “Appitrack has been used to build tramways at other locations across the world, but its use on NET is certainly unique in the UK. We made the best use of it we could and I think the best we achieved was 220 metres one summer’s day, on Queen’s Walk, heading down from the city centre to the River Trent.
“Appitrack is a cleaner and more efficient process because you don’t need jigs, and workers to come along and pour the concrete, the machine lays a slab of concrete that supports its own shape, then a GPScontrolled machine places the plates directly into the wet concrete.
“You generally avoid any rework that way because you’ve got the plates exactly where you want them, while not having any jigs makes everything look like a much tidier and modern, more efficient worksite.
“We had visitors from a number of different cities from around the world, including Rio de Janeiro, whose tramway was obviously part of the city's key infrastructure for the 2016 Olympics. But also many other nationalities came to see Appitrack at work and the unique technology. During the peak construction phase we had people coming nearly every week to see it in action, including from Dublin.”
Evans says that Alstom is hopeful of other opportunities to deploy Appitrack in the UK, either in the increasingly likely event that NET is extended further, or in other cities building new or extending existing systems. NET’s line to Toton is expected to be extended a short distance to the proposed site of the East Midlands station on High Speed 2, should it be built by 2033, as is
Dublin’s Citadis trams move about 32-35 million passengers a year - the whole of Irish Rail moves about 42 million. Nick Phillips, Project Manager Dublin, Alstom
currently scheduled. But it could also be extended to Derby, in order to improve links between the two neighbouring cities and HS2.
“We know some of the other cities that already have tramways might start to talk about extensions,” explains Evans. “Edinburgh has recently revealed plans to extend its line, and we’ll be assessing that. A colleague of mine recently went there and said it looked extremely suitable for Appitrack, as the planned route is nice and straight and clear.
“Obviously, we hope Nottingham continues to grow, and we will be keeping an eye on what's going to happen with Toton
As well as forming a better link between HS2 and Nottingham, it would also be great to get a tram route to Derby. That’s certainly something we’d encourage. The other obvious location to link to HS2 would be East Midlands Airport (ten miles to the south of Toton, near Castle Donington).
“Thinking about other cities, and Northern Powerhouse and the opportunities there, it would be quite good to get cities such as Leeds and Liverpool to think more about tramways. Cities of the same size in France or Germany usually have a tram system already.”
Meanwhile, more than 200 miles to the west and across the Irish Sea, Alstom continues to play a pivotal part in the development of Dublin’s Luas tram system.
Opened in 2004, Alstom was chosen to supply the rolling stock, and received an order for an initial batch of 40 Citadis trams, which subsequently grew to a total of 66. These trams were originally 30 metres in length, but have since been extended to 40 metres by Alstom, as patronage continues to rise and Ireland’s economy continues to recover from the financial crisis that hit the country paricularly hard un 2008
In December 2015, Transport Infrastructure Ireland ( TII) gave off another sign of economic recovery, by placing a 36 million euro (£ 31m) order for seven 50-metre Citadis trams - they’ll be the longest singleunit Citadis trams in the world, once they enter traffic later this year.
In 2014, Alstom’s contract to maintain and periodically overhaul the Citadis fleet was renewed for a further five years to 2019, and a second contract to maintain the entire Luas system infrastructure was also extended. Together, these contracts were worth 53 million euros (£ 45.5m), and reflect the level of service offered to both the customer ( TII) and the travelling public by Alstom.
Nick Phillips, Alstom Ireland’s operation director, says: “The 66 Citadis trams in Dublin have been extended from 30 metres to 40, which ably demonstrates the modular design. And they’re well used - we move about 32-35 million passengers a year, which you can compare to the whole of Irish Rail, which moves about 42 million.
“We’re now seeing growth, after the problems in 2008, and that has brought higher passenger volumes. To meet that we will provide seven new 50-metre Citadis trams, which are the longest trams Alstom provides globally, so it is a first for Dublin and a first for Alstom. We are retrospectively applying these larger vehicles to existing infrastructure, so there’s a lot of other work to do, for example increasing traction current, extending platforms and readjusting signalling, to accommodate the extra length.
“We’re also doing day-to-day maintenance of the existing fleet right up to vehicle overhaul and bogie overhaul. The 300,000km overhaul was completed in 2015, and we’ve just started the 900,000km overhaul on some of the first trams we delivered to the system’s Red Line.”
As has been the case for Nottingham, Dublin has also been chosen to showcase some of Alstom’s new and innovative solutions: equipping two trams with smart meters to analyse energy use, for instance. This was conducted as part of a joint research programme with the Irish Railway Procurement Agency to test optimisation solutions such as regenerative braking, energy storage and an enhanced air conditioning control system.
Explains Phillips: “On the back of that we also trialled a supercapacitor in Dublin as a way of putting regenerative energy back into the system. Although it wasn’t for a client specifically, it proved the technology does work. We’ve also been trying out various GIS (geographic information systems) on infrastructure and track so we can better plan the maintenance.
“We have often highlighted Dublin as a good platform to trial new technologies, as we were one of the first projects to receive Citadis trams, and so we can provide a higher level of feedback on the product which is now in its fifth generation worldwide.”
As with Nottingham, Dublin’s tram system also turned heads internationally, and multiple foreign delegations have been hosted by Transport Infrastructure Ireland to experience the transformative effect of light rail in the urban environment.
Phillips concludes: “When you get light rail systems that work, and are cost effective, reliable and safe, like here in Dublin, then a lot of people are quite happy to copy that.”
And so it would seem where Alstom leads, others will follow.
Alstom designed a bespoke OLE system at Nottingham Express Transit’s Queen’s Medical Centre stop, to limit electromagnetic compatibility issues with sensitive equipment in the adjacent hospital.
Nottingham Express Transit is where Alstom’s Appitrack automated track laying system made its UK debut, in 2014, accelerating the laying of track by three to four times the normal rate.