The Lighter Side of Paris

16 June 2008 (Last Updated June 16th, 2008 18:30)

Has Paris finally taken to the idea of light rail? Howard Johnston reports.

The Lighter Side of Paris

Trams had almost run their day in Paris. That was until 2006, when the T3 Tramway des Maréchaux opened, reintroducing rail to the city that had previously favoured suburban stations, buses and private cars.

But today Paris is celebrating somewhat of a revival in light rail – four tram routes operate in the Paris metropolitan region at present.

Attitudes towards the environment have certainly done a lot to encourage the growth of tram networks, as well as rising fuel costs, which could mean the tram is back to stay.

MAINTAINING MOMENTUM

Decision-makers for Paris and the Île-de-France region seem in little doubt that the speed of service implementation and flexibility of light rail makes it a transport problem solver and that it is, in fact, back to stay.

There is a commitment to expand the format, with mode interchanges remaining to the fore in planning. The wholly new 'Y' configured Saint-Denis/épinay-sur-Seine/Villetaneuse route around the north eastern neighbourhoods
would see a tram network in place, as opposed to the present single T1 line, also set for further extension.

It is unlikely, though, that Paris will again see multiple tram routes in the centre as per Brussels or Amsterdam. The principal role of modern Paris tramways is that of a high capacity direct link between outer districts, obviating the need to travel wastefully via the centre, thus also freeing capacity on radial routes. Cutting across such routes, the trams can provide any number of interchanges with SNCF Transilien services, RER and to a lesser extent in the outer districts, RATP's Metro.

"It is unlikely that Paris will again see multiple tram routes in the centre as per Brussels or Amsterdam."

Like its predecessors towards the city's edge, Tramway des Maréchaux (T3), for example, takes an orbital course – a 7.9km (4.9 mile) southern arc around Paris's historic boundary.

Infamous for driver conduct and traffic jams but nevertheless effective in channelling vehicles away from city streets, the Boulevard Périphérique motorway ring dating from 1973 demonstrated the demand for journeys that did not follow the
predominantly radial roads.

Built on the city side of the Périphérique, T3 is a €311.5m landscaped showcase designed to entice Parisians into leaving the car behind or persuade even more not to bother with owning one. As well as persuasion, dissuasion has been applied in the form of removing thousands of free parking spaces and introducing 'green districts' whose roads have very low speed limits.

For Parisians, the T3 has also improved services to anyone with mobility problems. Low platforms and level access without all the stairs required by metro services have added a new level of mobility to life for the disabled and elderly

LIGHT RAIL SUCCESS

Overall, the success of light rail in terms of being embraced by passengers is clear. Moving from 178-capacity TFS to the 212-capacity Citadis 302, such is the demand on T2 that services are now formed of two units. The line itself is set to expand at both ends to a total of 18km (11.2 miles) with 24 stops by 2011.

"Extension across the Seine is planned at both ends of T3 – already with around 100,000 daily users."

Extension across the Seine is planned at both ends of T3 – already with around 100,000 daily users. At the east, the aim is to continue from Porte D'Ivry, broadly with the northern curve of the city boundary, adding approximately 14km (8.7 miles) and 25 new stops, with RATP envisaging completion during 2012. Illustrative of the interchange policy, the extension would provide connections at 15 points with Metro or RER, also with 28 bus
routes.

Less clear is the future of SNCF's presently self-contained T4. Nevertheless, T4 has already succeeded in making the route of greater use and much more accessible to local residents than during conventional railway operation. Although Paris has Metro and guided bus projects in hand, and the RER is awaiting much-needed stock replacements, the City of Light is also turning into a city of light rail.

Each rail route is strikingly different – and this comes as no surprise. Operator Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP) is responsible for T1-T3, with T4 in SNCF hands. Consistent with the national operator having been responsible for the 7.9km heavy rail link between Bondy and Aulnay-sous-Bois stations on different RER lines from which T4 was formed, by the same reasoning it would have retained control of the now RATP-operated T2, also a heavy rail conversion.

Opening in December 1992, the first and longest of the routes, T1 in the north east uses a first-generation low-floor type, the Alsthom-GEC TFS (Tramway Français Standard), a 35-strong fleet composed of its initial allocation and those transferred from T2.

"T4's tram-train capability for street and mainline running currently remains unexploited."

Both T2 and T3 use the more modern Alstom Citadis, five and seven modules long respectively.

More significantly, the variants are of different width. This precludes interoperability of the types on the two routes, something which may have been useful with the projected 2009 opening of the 2.3km T2 extension from Issy Val de Seine to create an interchange with T3 at Porte de Versailles Metro.

In a rare departure for France, the 15 T4 vehicles are not from Alstom, but are the five-section Avanto from Siemens, similar to those that have found success with US city operators. T4 uses a 25kV ac system as per SNCF main lines, contrasting with T1–T3 having 750V dc.

Although already providing a much better service to the area's residents and those seeking access to Charles de Gaulle airport via the RER interchange at Aulnay-sous-Bois, T4's tram-train capability for street and mainline running currently remains unexploited. From a customer viewpoint, however, the multiple technical differences of Paris's light rail operations are of little direct importance, as all four routes are covered within the RATP
ticketing system.