The Italian city of Turin is regarded as the industrial heart of the country, and is home to Fiat, one of the country’s best-known and most powerful industrial corporations.

This presence means that the area has always been in a healthy financial position and from late in the 19th century the city recognised the importance of an efficient public transport system to its fortunes. With this background, it is perhaps not surprising that Turin has been a trailblazer for many years, with an extensive and well-used tramway system.

The municipal transport authority, Azienda Tranvie Municipali, operates the city’s urban and suburban bus and tramway networks while another city-backed organisation, SATTI, is responsible for bus and local railway services which feed into Turin from neighbouring towns. Fiat’s position at the heart of the city economy was quickly recognised by tramway developers, who soon offered to link the huge plant south of the city to the main tram network.

Turin has an extensive tramway network (179km, expected to grow to 195km) including two light rail lines. Line 4 is being upgraded to become a partly underground light rail route, linking the north and south of the city. It will integrate with Metro Line 1 at an interchange in the city centre.

Economic troubles in 1992 brought service cuts, and this was reflected in a drop in passenger figures of more than 10%. However, two years later a new strategic plan brought plans to convert several routes to light rail and for a new Metro system to complement them. This integrated approach should help to reduce traffic congestion on key routes in and out of the city centre, which are among the most congested in Europe.

A further incentive for the projects was gained in 2000 when Turin was named as the host of the 2006 Winter Olympics. This huge event will see tens of thousands of extra people descend on the city and its transport systems needed upgrading to cope.

The project

The success of improved tram routes in Turin has encouraged ATM and SATTI to upgrade further lines and invest in the future success of light rail across the city.

The method by which Turin’s tramway system is supported financially means that its success is tied very closely to that of the national economy. Almost three-quarters of the system’s costs are met by subsidy from the central government, with the municipality contributing the remaining quarter.

Infrastructure

On the upgraded tram routes, track is laid as conventional sleepers on ballast but as many of the streets through which trams run are relatively narrow the tracks have been laid in the gutters. In some less busy parts of the network, one-way operation is in force.

“Old-style trams are likely to have a place on the city’s streets for several years to come, as the authorities recognise their appeal to visitors.”

Some of these suburban areas were also among the first to be upgraded to light rail operation, due to the ability to carry out this work with relatively little disruption to the system.

Line 3, an east-west route from Vallette to Piazza Hermada is already operating as an upgraded light rail route, while from late 1998 Line 4, between Corso Giulio Cesare and Via XX Settembre and Via Milano, was also upgraded. The central section of Line 4 is gradually being upgraded to modern standards with tracks segregated from traffic wherever possible. This should help to reduce journey times for both light rail passengers and road users.

Line 4 is a north-south route and has been extended at both ends to create a new cross-city trunk line. A 2km extension from Mirafiori Sud to Montcalieri was opened in November 2001 and a further 5km extension from Gottardo to Falchera is due to be completed in 2004. It will connect with heavy rail Passante suburban trains at Stura and will include a 700m underground section.

By 2004, further line extensions will see the Turin network expand to 195km with the construction of new extensions to both ends of the north-south Line 18, improvements on Line 10 and the east-west Lines 3 and 13. A planned extension of Line 13 has been dropped.

Rolling stock

The plan for light rail operation involved the purchase of 34 new trains, while several earlier generation vehicles underwent a rebodying programme.

Publicity for this work took a number of novel forms, including the sponsorship of the repainting of one unit by regional newspaper La Stampa, and the conversion of a further unit into a mobile library, which sees service on the original Line 1.

For the new generation of light rail vehicles, 55 Cityway seven-section, low-floor LRVs was ordered from Alstom Ferroviaria. The first of these went into service on Line 4 in April 2002 and around 40 will be allocated to this route to cater for expansion and the heavy expected traffic. The other 15 LRVs will be distributed among the other lines. ATM has an option for 45 more Cityways.

Existing Series 5500 trams built in 1988-89 with 60% low floors are being cascaded to Lines 13, 15 and 18 to replace older stock. Heavier Series 7000 LRVs built for Line 4 are now restricted to Lines 3 and 9. By late-2004 ATM should have 187 low-floor trams in service and all the remaining 1950s and 1960s built vehicles should have been retired.

Signalling and communications

The latest light rail vehicles are continually monitored by staff in the central control room who also have constant sight of station platforms via remote video. The train’s control unit feeds information to a wayside control unit, which in turn receives signals from the control centre and governs the train’s speed. Communication receivers located between the rails at regular intervals also send signals and data on the train’s progress back to the control centre.

The future

Having proved its success, light rail is set to expand to completely take over from its tram predecessors. However, old style trams are likely to have a place on the city’s streets for several years to come, as the authorities recognise their appeal to visitors. The new generation of Turin metro system represents a quantum leap from its previous incarnation, in terms of technology, speed, safety and image.