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Tram-Trains in Europe: Sustainable alternative to urban mobility [free access]

November 1, 2009

Rail-based transport is becoming increasingly popular in many European countries to meet the mobility demands of growing population and combat climate change. Tram-trains, a hybrid of trams and trains, are one of the preferred alternatives in this regard.


Tram-trains can run on existing rail lines as well as on the street, sharing the route with other vehicles and allowing travel within towns and cities and between them. They are typically powered by overhead electric cables and, less frequently, by diesel. Tram-trains are being developed to run as diesel/electric hybrids.


They are popular because they can ease congestion and provide new mobility options in peri-urban areas. They are also affordable, reliable, safe and environmentally-friendly.


Some of the advantages of tram-trains are as follows:



Several tram-based projects are being implemented in Europe.  Germany is planning a tram-train project in Braunschweig. Work on the USD347.17 million project is expected to be begin by 2009-end. The project is likely to use third rail technology which allows vehicles to run on the mainline rail network as well as on the city tramway network.


The new service will provide high frequency connectivity to Salzitter, to the south of Braunschweig, as well as direct, on-street journeys from the central station to the city centre for travellers from the south east and northern suburbs.


The federal government is likely to extend 60 per cent of the project cost, and about 22.5 per cent will be contributed by Niedersachen Land (Lower Saxony State). 


In Lyon, France, two new routes have been identified for tram-train services. The tram-trains running on these tracks will be electrically powered and are likely to become operational by 2010. Of the two routes, one will serve the TGV station at Part-Dieu and Lyon St. Exbury airport to the east and another will serve suburbs to the west. 


In the UK, by 2011, five new tram-trains are scheduled to start trial operations connecting Huddersfield, Barnsley, and Sheffield. The trial operations, in partnership between the Department for Transport, Northern Rail and Network Rail, will examine the environmental impact, operating costs, technical suitability, and the system’s popularity with passengers. Plans to evaluate the additional benefits of extending the service on the Sheffield Supertram system, under the second trial phase, are also on the anvil.


In European countries where tram-train projects have been started, a significant increase in ridership has been seen. Another benefit has been increased land prices in the surrounding areas.


The spread of trams in Europe will eventually depend upon the system’s performance with respect to cost, safety and environmental efficiency. Given the technology required to run them, tram-train systems may cost more than conventional trains or trams but governments will weigh up these costs against the benefits to their citizens and the environment.  




Tram-Train Project: Brest Métropole Océane, France


A tram-train project is currently being implemented at Brest Métropole Océane (BMO). The 14.3 km long public transportation system, with 27 stations, each placed at a distance of about 500 metres, aims to connect residential areas to the business sector of the town.


The system is expected to cater to 27 per cent of the population, carrying about 45,000 passengers per day. Given that it will have the right-of-way at all intersections and will run in a separate right-of-way lane, it is expected to be faster. These electrically-powered tram-trains will eliminate the problems of parking, petrol costs, delays, and greenhouse gas emissions.


The low-floor tram project, levelled with the platform, will be accessible without any step up or down. There will also be ramps and wide corridors to help pregnant women, the elderly, and people with strollers or wheelchairs. Bicycles will be accepted in the tramway outside peak traffic times. The trains will run at 20 km per hour. 


To seamlessly mesh the different forms of transport, the bus network will be restructured and improved, with the objective of increasing the ridership by 27 per cent. New links will be established, more bus services will be provided and bus schedules will be altered to dovetail with the tram timings.   


Construction is slated to begin towards the end of 2009. The trial operations are expected to begin by 2011, and the project is expected to be commissioned by mid-2012.


The project is estimated to require an investment of about USD444 million and can be broken down into five major components: engineering studies and project management (USD89.4 million, 20 per cent), depot maintenance facility (USD22.35 million, 5 per cent), rolling stock (USD81.95 million, 19 per cent), civil engineering works (USD14.9 million, 3 per cent), and roadbed infrastructures and facilities (USD235.42 million, 53 per cent).


Public transport systems such as the buses, tramways, and subways are financed through a transport tax. The tax for public transport, charged at the rate of 1.65 per cent, is levied on all public and private sector establishments with more than nine salaried employees. The system is also financed through loans (to be reimbursed by the tax), and subsidies (state, regional council, general council, European Union).


To encourage people to use the tram system, park-and-ride locations will be set up at the end of the line or at strategic points in the city so that they can park their cars easily and hop onto the tram. At the moment, 200 such places can be found in Kergaradec, Froutven and Montbarey and 300 in Strasbourg Square.


Like all transport projects, the tram project is also expected to have several multiplier effects. To assess the impact, BMO, in association with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has created a Socioeconomic Observatory to study economic development along the proposed alignment.


The project is expected to contribute to the development of Brest and help  local shops and businesses to flourish. Estimates suggest that it may  increase downtown commercial activities, resulting in a 30 per cent rise in the number of shoppers in places such as Montpellier and Strasbourg.


With more pedestrians around, new shops are expected to open. A special committee is envisaged, in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to help these new shops come up. The committee will include businessmen, shopkeepers, craftsmen, and professionals who work along the alignment.