Alstom’s Light Rail Advances Ripe for North American Market

Posted on May 17, 2012 by Janna Starcic, Executive Editor

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An Alstom Citadis Dualis Tram/Train operated by SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français), France’s national state-owned railway company.
An Alstom Citadis Dualis Tram/Train operated by SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français), France’s national state-owned railway company.

Recent economic struggles have pushed some U.S. transit systems to rethink project plans, or look to bus rapid transit (BRT) service over light rail. When asked to comment on this, Mehlman says that while “upfront investment costs are lower for BRT systems, from an overall lifecycle cost perspective and sustainable development perspective, clearly light rail stands out as the better solution.”

He cites the recovery of braking energy and efficient electronic technology resulting in low energy consumption levels as a key benefit. “From the standpoint of lifecycle costs, energy consumption, low maintenance costs, light rail is the superior option, he says.

Alternative financing is also key in project development. “Streetcar systems costing $200 million or short line LRVs can be implemented with private financing or full concessions,” Mehlman says. “We’ve done it 12 times for projects in cities like Barcelona and elsewhere.”

“When these systems are well planned, they are hugely successful and they pay for themselves,” Mehlman says. Contrary to mass transit or mainline rail systems, which do not pay for themselves because the cost of the infrastructure is so high.

“We should look at the price gap between BRT and LRV in those terms, and in fact, it’s a very limited price gap, with huge lifecycle benefits afterwards,” he says.

Mehlman sees the company’s ­Dualis product platform as a good fit for the U.S. market. “This is an evolution of our Citadis product range, which is typically a high-capacity, broad gauge light rail vehicle with full low-floor design enabled to meet all the requirements of the U.S. market in terms of acceleration, braking, crash resistance, ADA compliance, and smoke and toxicity standards,” he says.

Transit agencies could start with a very limited network, allowing for those with a limited budget to start with a short line. The networks can then evolve and expand like the systems in Phoenix, Los Angeles and Dallas, and get people out to the suburbs at quicker speeds, Mehlman explains. “It’s a nice platform because it allows city planners to develop their network progressively with mixed service,” he says.

Innovative projects
Two recent projects that showcase Alstom’s innovative light rail technology include the system in Reims, France, which opened in spring 2011, and the aforementioned project in Dubai.

The project in Reims is a full low-floor Citadis streetcar with off-wire capabilities. It was delivered as a concession — partially financed by Alstom and its partners. The two-line, nearly seven-mile system features 23 stations. “You have all the innovations packed into this system and an alternate delivery scheme with limited financing for the city,” Mehlman says.

With commercial service slated for the end of 2014, Dubai will become the first city in the Gulf region to operate a tram system. Phase one of the project, known as the Al Sufouh tramway, includes the supply of 11 Citadis tramsets, 6.2 miles of track, 13 stations and other equipment, including electrification, signaling and ticketing systems. The APS technology selected for use on the Dubai tramway is a catenary-free system, which helps to preserve the urban environment.

Alstom recently was awarded an $88 million dollar 13-year maintenance contract, which includes preventive and corrective routine maintenance and equipment renewal.

Phase 2 of the Dubai tramway project provides for 14 additional Citadis tramsets, as well as 2.5 miles of track and six stations.

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