The International Light Rail Magazine
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Is ‘free’ transit really free?

Is ‘free’ transit really free?

What’s a transit pass worth? To the customer, it is (hopefully) worth what they paid for it and means they can get where they want to go safely, conveniently and in comfort. To the transit operator, it represents a source of income. To developers and employers, it offers an opportunity to increase the attractiveness of their location. To the wider community where the transit system operates, it means mobility, access to work, cultural and leisure destinations, reduced congestion along busy travel corridors and a cleaner, greener way of life. But what if that journey is then offered free to the customer? It is a great deal for the rider – we all like free things – but how does the operator recover lost revenue, and will it be able to support an assumed increase in demand and ridership? Finally, what does the community gain from having a new ‘free’ service? This is a global conversation, but one that has been particularly active in the United States, as transit operators of all sizes consider ways to restore ridership to pre-COVID levels. In fact, several were looking at this before the pandemic as a response to demands to boost ridership as evidence to elected officials and outside observers – particularly the anti-transit crowd – of the value in public investment in such services. Ridership is often the only value metric that matters to some, and many operators and advocates here are all too familiar with the “It’s cheaper to give everyone a car than to build a transit system,” canard. That argument is a virus that cannot easily be killed; but it...
Next-generation traction batteries

Next-generation traction batteries

In the wake of COP26, key stakeholders in the rail industry are coming under increasing pressure to employ more sustainable ways of providing traction power. According to the UNIFE (Union des Industries Ferroviaires Européennes) association of European rolling stock builders and suppliers, rail transport is by far the most carbon-efficient mode of transport for both passengers and freight (Figure 1, right). When it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from rail networks, the greatest opportunity will be switching from diesel power to electrified lines. However, full route electrification can be both difficult and costly. A more affordable option is to adopt a hybrid method – a combination of partially-electrified sections, allied to onboard battery systems for any remaining non-electrified sections. It then becomes a balancing act of minimising costs and emissions. Autonomous traction power has other advantages over just reducing emissions. In urban networks, a tram or metro train supplied by overhead or third rail sources may require an emergency traction supply in case of any electrical outages. An onboard battery solution here, for example, would give enough power for the vehicle to clear the line as well as offering enough auxiliary power for the doors, lights, and communications systems. Traction battery solutions Full electrification, by either overhead line or third rail, poses a number of challenges related to cost, delivery and safety. Bridges, tunnels, and low-traffic lines, for example, give rise to difficulties when installing electrified lines on certain sections of track. The most obvious alternative would be to partially electrify certain sections, applying onboard battery to power the vehicle for the rest of the time. This way,...
Addressing the climate crisis

Addressing the climate crisis

Global temperatures are rising and weather events are becoming more extreme. Last year (2020) was one of the hottest on record and 2021 is expected to exceed those numbers once again. “In this case, first place is the worst place to be,” commented Rick Spinrad of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in early August 2021: “July is typically the world’s warmest month of the year, but July 2021 outdid itself as both the hottest July and the hottest month ever recorded. This new record adds to the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe.” Severe heatwaves struck North America during June and July, with many places exceeding previous highs by 4-6°C, causing hundreds of additional heat-related deaths. On 9 July, South California’s Death Valley saw the highest temperature ever documented on land, a staggering 54.4°C (130°F). Sadly, this wasn’t a freak event. On 11 August, a weather station in Sicily reached 48.8°C, a new European record, while Kairouan (Tunisia) reached 50.3°C – yet another milestone high. At the other end of the thermometer, abnormally cold conditions similarly affected many parts of the world at the start of 2021. Winter Storm Uri caused an estimated USD21bn in damage as it swept across the US in February, knocking out power grids, devastating transport networks, and resulting in over 200 deaths. Texas experienced its lowest temperatures in three decades. On the other side of the Atlantic, an aberrant cold front hit Europe in early April, with average temperatures around a degree lower than seen in decades. Aside from extremes of hot and cold, stronger than...
Driving safety improvements for all

Driving safety improvements for all

Safety has always been an over-riding priority for operators of tramways and other light rail systems, but traditionally they’ve worked independently to develop their own risk management and mitigation policies. However, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report into the November 2016 Sandilands accident recommended the formation of a new body to take responsibility for light rail safety in the UK. This included the development of a sector-wide approach which encompasses all aspects of incident reporting, risk modelling and the development of best practice. In response, the sector came together to launch the Light Rail Safety and Standards Board in 2019, and since then huge strides have been made on the implementation of the RAIB’s recommendations and a wide range of other safety-related projects. Most ambitious of all has been the creation of an integrated risk management framework. Building on work started by UKTram and existing best practice, the framework draws on the experience of safety professionals and is supported by specialist consultants and external agencies, including the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). It also incorporates a series of interconnected projects to deliver a framework that is already making a significant contribution to safety across the sector. Key principles The basis of the risk management process is a continuous cycle of improvement based upon the cornerstone philosophy of Plan, Do, Check, Act and As Low as Reasonably Practicable (ALARP), whilst considering the crucial components of risk: Identification Measurement Assessment Mitigation Reporting Communication Monitoring Improvement Governance In turn this provides a comprehensive, systematic and proactive approach from both an overall industry and individual organisational perspective. It aims to identify...
Zurich’s cargo tram

Zurich’s cargo tram

Since 2003 a unique tram enterprise has operated in the Swiss city of Zürich. It provides waste collection and recycling services to the roughly 48% of city households without a car or the facility to get large or bulky items to the main disposal centre at Hagenholz. Due to the popularity of this public service, the operation’s scope has been expanded to include the collection of old or broken electronics. Correspondingly, this facility has been branded as E-Tram. Both the E-Tram and Cargo-Tram run all year-round Monday-Saturday, serving 11 pick-up sites around the city on a rotating basis. Drop-off times are 15.00-19.00 on weekdays and 07.30-14.00 on Saturdays. Purely for the location at Strassenverkehrsamt, a substitute lorry has to be used every 14 days on Fridays, as there is no suitable siding to park rolling stock without blocking regular tram traffic on line 13. The city’s terms of use for both the Cargo Tram and E-Tram state that only objects weighing up to 40kg or with a maximum length of 2.5m may be brought for disposal on the waste container hauled by the tram. Naturally, some items are banned, such as sand, gravel, liquids or hazardous materials. Using a car to deliver bulky items to the pick-up site of the Cargo-Tram or E-Tram is not permitted either. Hand-carried sofas are accepted for disposal, if they are a maximum of two metres in length. The Cargo-Tram in operation The operation is staffed by a team of four; in addition to the tram driver there are two recycling specialists and a guard to manage traffic flow. The actual tramcar used is...
How do we cut LRT’s costs?

How do we cut LRT’s costs?

A key criticism often levelled at tramway and light rail projects – and major transport schemes in general – is their upfront cost. Over the years we hope that TAUT has helped to dispel some of the myths that light rail lines don’t offer ‘value for money’, given the multi-generational benefits which far outweigh the initial costs. There is always room for improvement, however, and new technologies offer many useful tools to help improve efficiencies and reduce unnecessary cost and disruption in the development of new lines. This year’s UK Light Rail Conference in Gateshead saw a lively panel debate tackle the issue of light rail development costs once again. In this latest TAUT round table we have brought those panellists together again, offering over a century’s combined tramway, procurement and engineering experience for an open discussion on the topic. Q. The term ‘value engineering’ is often used in major transport schemes. But do you think it actually adds value, or is it purely used as a method to take away cost? Richard Briggs: The question with value engineering is that if it is truly value that you’re seeking from the process, then the answer is ‘yes’. However, you’ve got to look at your requirements and the desired outcomes. Does the project, if it’s a new LRT system, still achieve the objectives that you sought at the start? If it’s purely cost-cutting, which quite often is labelled as ‘value engineering’, then you’re not really driving value. I’ve been involved in projects, as I’m sure others have, where there has been a pressure on costs and important things have been cut...