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‘While tramways do come at a cost, the barriers to new systems are clearing…’

‘While tramways do come at a cost, the barriers to new systems are clearing…’

TAUT caught up with SYSTRA CEO Pierre Verzat to gauge his views on today’s light rail landscape, new technologies, and his predictions for the future. Q: As SYSTRA has expanded, what have been the key changes that have driven your transition from a pure transport planning and engineering specialist? Since our formation we have operated from A to Z, from initial transport planning to final project delivery. There are of course changes in the way we are modelling and designing, and this is due to digitalisation. It is clear that the increased usage of digital tools is pushing everyone up to the asset management level as we all have far more data. This is adding new business for us as from the initial digital model the client is then asking us for assistance in delivery of the BIM model. They understand that this is a complex task, so they also ask us to manage this for them. It is becoming a true business to manage the BIM model for clients and help them to build around this solution, including operations and maintenance. Today, I would say that consultancy, including transport planning and engineering for mass transit and rail, is around 85% of our business as there is still a great need for engineering expertise in the development of new solutions for transport – metro, tramway, rail, highway – as we face challenges such as climate change and urbanisation. Q: A lack of provision for renewals was a common reason for the closure of first-generation systems, so with more data are we finally moving toward a view of full lifecycle...
Grand ambitions in Szczecin

Grand ambitions in Szczecin

Words and images by Andrew Thompson With a population approaching 400 000 residents, Szczecin is the largest city in north-western Poland and one of the country’s most important ports on the Baltic Sea. Until 1945 and the redrawing of European borders, the city was known as Stettin, famous for its shipbuilding industry and the Vulcan yards. The city’s municipal tramway dates from 1879, beginning with horse-drawn operations. Electrification began in 1896 and since then the system has grown continuously, with the most recent extension of the rapid tramline on the east bank of the River Odra (Oder) opening in 2015. Like the rest of the city, most of the tramway is on the left (Lewobrzeże) bank. With a preponderance of segregated alignments, about two-thirds of the total, there is still much street-running. In the city centre in particular this takes the form of central tracks. Currently the nominal size of the 1435mm-gauge network is 65.5km (40.7 miles). Around 65m passengers are carried each year. EU funding driving change Prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain and during the last decades of communist rule in the 1970s and 1980s, Szczecin’s tramway benefitted from fleet renewal and new Konstal cars – yet matching infrastructure investment fell some way behind. The municipal authorities and public transport operator have been trying to make up for this backlog during the past two decades, with the availability of EU funding proving the main catalyst for phased modernisation. The tramway is administered by Szczecin’s roads and transport authority, Zarząd Dróg i Transportu Miejskiego (ZDiTM), with operations managed by a limited liability company, Tramwaje Szczecińskie (TS),...
Coventry VLR: Roll on 2024

Coventry VLR: Roll on 2024

Monday 4 April was momentous for the Very Light Rail team at Coventry City Council. This was the day that the West Midlands’ ‘ask’ of GBP1.05bn (EUR1.25bn) for a package of rail, tram, bus and active travel improvements for the coming five years received formal approval under the UK Government’s City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS). Within the detail, however, was something of potentially wider significance – an allocation of GBP54m (EUR64.5m – subject to business case approvals) to progress a Very Light Rail demonstrator line for Coventry. Launched six years ago as a low-cost urban LRT concept, the Coventry Very Light Rail (CVLR) project has gathered momentum in the past couple of years as the UK city sought to offer “something that complements bus-based solutions” for its current population of 380 000. The fastest-growing city in the country, Coventry’s population is forecast to rise to around 435 000 in the next decade. “We saw an opportunity to use our rich manufacturing skills and work with our innovative partners in Coventry and the wider region to create a cleaner, greener form of public transport, one that takes advantage of Coventry’s place at the heart of the UK’s automotive sector and builds on our ambition to lead the green industrial revolution,” says councillor Jim O’Boyle, cabinet member for jobs, regeneration and climate change at Coventry City Council. The ‘Urban VLR’ concept began with a clean sheet to create battery-powered vehicles and an innovative shallow trackform to reduce the costs of new urban rail schemes by around two-thirds compared to conventional tramway installations. In a world where demands on the public...
SmartWindows into the future

SmartWindows into the future

Passengers in Karlsruhe can now access timetabling and disruption information… through their window. The team behind the SmartMMI project explains how it works. One glance is all it takes for passengers to find out about a passing museum, tourist attraction or his or her next connection… all this and more is displayed on the semi-transparent SmartWindow being trialled on a dual-system tram-train operated by Germany’s Albtal-Verkehrs-Gesellschaft (AVG). For those who wish to take the information with them, a complementary app allows users to interact with the onboard screens and transfer data to their own device. So what sounded like science fiction just a few years ago is now a reality through the SmartMMI (Smart Model- and context-based Mobility Information) research project, led by the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences (HKA). Semi-transparent displays onboard public transport vehicles have been presented as prototypes for passenger information before, but this project is a first in that the project partners were able to develop a visualisation and interaction concept in a user-centred approach and at the same time advance the data-centric services that feed them. The use of augmented reality is now commonplace. Via smartphone apps, on television or while behind the wheel of a car, many of us are already familiar with this technology. The background to SmartMMI stems therefore from a desire to enhance the travel experience for the millions of people who use public transport services each day. In order to transform such journeys from a necessity into a more rounded and more useful mobility experience, the project – funded with EUR2.6m from the mFund initiative of the German Federal...
Empowering operations teams with real-time information

Empowering operations teams with real-time information

Today’s passenger is spoilt for choice, with a wealth of information at their fingertips through an array of apps on their devices. Yet while passengers can find out fare information or when their next tram is arriving at the touch of a button, the operations team delivering the service is often left behind – both in terms of the systems they are using and the information they can access. So why has this happened, and what can we do to improve it? Often the issue is not a lack of technology, but instead too much technology. Operators implement large IT systems on the understanding that they are a panacea, only to realise that they have too many features, are difficult to use and don’t interact smoothly with other systems in the organisation. On the other side of the coin we see many teams drowning in a sea of spreadsheets and paper-based processes. While these definitely have a part to play in some roles, they can also be problematic as they require a lot of manual intervention and a serious Excel obsession! Ultimately both options can lead to frustration for the end user, impacting their ability to do their job effectively. One such user is the incident manager, a critical role which requires liaison with multiple stakeholders to quickly log, resolve and report on incidents. Vital to efficient service delivery, the information they need to be most efficient is often not readily available. Having an integrated, user-friendly system that enables the right information to be delivered in real-time can quickly deliver benefits for the incident manager, the operator, and ultimately...
A vision of the urban tram’s future

A vision of the urban tram’s future

Imagine a modular autonomous tram with the ability to transport passengers during the day, easily converted into a freight carrier in the evening. Such a vision for the future was recently confirmed as the winner of the prestigious DESING+ (Industrial DESign + EngineerING Design) competition organised by the University of West Bohemia (UWB), Czech Republic. Now in its 18th year, the DESING+ challenge is designed to facilitate inter-faculty collaboration in the fields of construction, industrial design, healthcare and marketing to solve design tasks assigned by national and international companies. In 2022, six interdisciplinary teams consisting of 56 students from the UWB’s Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, the Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art, th Faculty of Health Care Studies and the Faculty of Economics participated in the contest; almost 1400 UWB students have taken part since 2004. ‘No design limits’ Giving the student teams the freedom to work from a blank sheet of paper under the guidance of university lecturers and professional industrial mentors, the DESING+ project encourages a methodological approach to design, while at the same time allowing students to step out of their comfort zone. Škoda Group’s tram research and development department was involved as a consultant for students throughout the project. The presented technical proposals are therefore the result of the EDSM approach supported by collaboration with the client. In the mobility section assigned, supported and co-evaluated by Škoda Group, this year the theme was the ‘Dual Autonomous Tram’. This set the task of designing a light rail vehicle which could be employed for passenger transport, but also easily configurable for the delivery of pre-ordered packages. The...