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Dijon: Ten years on

Dijon Citadis 1002 sports a striking advertising livery to promote the city’s museum; pictured in February 2022 at the République junction, turning off onto line T2 from the main trunk route.

Words and images by Andrew Thompson

On 1 September the modern tramway in Dijon celebrated its tenth anniversary. Drawing inspiration from small- to medium-sized cities such as Mulhouse and Le Mans which joined the French light rail revolution in the preceding years, this 18km (11.2-mile) two-line network is in many ways typical of the country’s second-generation systems.

The layout in the capital of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region comprises north-south and east-west standard-gauge, largely-segregated lines. It also makes extensive use of green track, customised styling of its Alstom Citadis vehicles, and a reconfigured bus and cycle network that serves as an effective feeder.

The ‘interurban’ section en route to the eastern T1 terminus at Quetigny is marked by extensive use of grass track.

Likewise, the template employed for the tramway is the same as applied in other 21st Century French networks. It links key passenger generators such as shopping malls, university campuses, hospitals and leisure facilities with the city centre, the main railway station, light industrial zones and densely-populated residential districts as directly as possible using grade-segregated corridors. Grand Dijon, the collective title of the agglomeration’s 23 communes, claims that around a third of its residents live within 500m of a stop. One distinct feature, however, is the eastern branch of line T1, which has an interurban dimension as it crosses green fields and the N274 motorway on its way to the neighbouring municipality of Quetigny.

The tramway has also transformed the historic city centre as immediately east of Place Darcy, a main bus-tram interchange, and Porte Guillaume triumphal arch, the narrow streets now have restricted traffic access. Here free electric ‘city’ shuttles are employed as feeders.

System development

From 1895 Dijon had an electric metre-gauge tramway (replacing a horse-drawn service launched in 1888) which reached its zenith by 1930. By 1961 the trams had been replaced by trolleybuses, first introduced in 1950 and superseded themselves by diesel buses in 1966.

With network restructuring in October 2004, the name Divia was adopted and a modern tramway was identified as the most cost-effective solution to improve operational efficiency and accelerate travel speeds. Political approval was given in November 2008 after higher-capacity bus lines (Lianes) introduced in 2000 proved insufficient to cope with demand, despite 90-second peak headways.

Full funding for the EUR399m tramway project had been secured by late 2009. The European Investment Bank provided the lion’s share via a EUR288m loan, with the remainder coming from the French Government and contributions from the Burgundy region and the local Côte-d’Or département.

In France’s first public-private partnership for a project of this type, a 26-year contract between Grand Dijon and an Inéo-led consortium was signed in July 2010 to design, supply, maintain and finance electrical and control equipment. In spite of the reconfigurations needed to create a system mainly running in dedicated space, installation proceeded at a remarkable pace. Construction began in October 2010, with the first rails laid by November 2011.

The east-west T1 line opened ahead of schedule in September 2012, with the shorter north-south T2 following in December.

Full integration

Click to enlarge.

The 8.5km (5.3-mile) T1 runs between the main railway station (Gare) and the eastern terminus at Quetigny Centre; 14 other stops are served, including the exhibition centre (Auditorium), university hospital (CHU-Hôpitaux) and the university campus (Erasme, Université). The average distance between stops is around 565m and the end-to-end journey time is approximately 28 minutes; this is seven minutes faster than the previous high-capacity bus service. Outside the city, large parts of the route are laid on grass tracks.

Journey times on the 11.5km (7.1-mile) 21-stop T2 are just over 30 minutes, an improvement of almost 20 minutes on the bus. A densely-populated residential area is served at the southern Chenôve terminus, and there is a business park at the northern Valmy terminus. As this is located in a development zone with convenient motorway access and a park-and-ride site, there is therefore obvious potential to generate even more demand.

Both lines use a short trunk route in the city centre which includes the two other intermediate stops Darcy and Godrans between the Foch – Gare and République junction stops.

To achieve a procurement synergy and significant cost savings (around 25%), Dijon placed a shared order for double-ended five-section Alstom Citadis 302 trams with the western port city of Brest in September 2009. Of the 52 total, 33 of the 32.7m-long and 2.4m-wide trams were allocated to Dijon.

The styling was originally created for the Brest network by Lyon-based Avant Première. Although this means that trams in the two cities share the same visual cues, in Dijon a ‘cassis’ livery was chosen to reflect the regional berry specialty. Interior distinguishing features include other links to Dijon’s gastronomy, such as anise-coloured seats and aubergine motifs on ceiling panels. Elsewhere you find long parcel shelves and small tables on one side of the 2+1 seating sections.

Designed for a maximum running speed of 70km/h (43.5mph), in operation this is only reached on the short overland route to Quetigny. Each tram has capacity for 200 passengers, including 42 seats, with the first arriving in January 2012

The single depot is in the south and connected to the T2 line via a 450m non-revenue track. An element of Dijon’s earlier railway heritage was retained in this combined tram and bus maintenance, administration and control centre. Connected by spurs between Bourroches and Carraz stops, the Les Ateliers facility occupies a former SNCF site which closed in 2006. Heavily modified, the 12ha site offers space for 33 trams and up to 215 buses and includes a short test track.

Part of the EU-supported TramStore21 sustainable depot collaboration, around 20 000m³ of material from the demolition of the SNCF buildings were recycled on site, and environmentally-friendly materials were used throughout the construction. Photovoltaic cells cover the depot’s roof, supplying 1.3GWh/yr for its operations.

Free electric shuttle buses wind their way through the old town and act as feeders to the city’s two tram routes.

With renewal of its operating contract with Keolis in 2017, for the first time in France the full public transport spectrum was combined into a ‘global mobility’ partnership. This covers both tramlines, five Lianes (L3-L7) which serve the city’s densest districts; 13 regular urban bus routes; ten car parks, three park-and-ride locations (space for 433 vehicles) and bicycle-sharing with over 1300 bikes.

In 2018 Dijon also became the first French city to equip both its buses and trams with contactless validators for transactions by debit/credit cards and smartphones. The city has over 12 500 active Mobility as a Service app users per day, making it one of the country’s leaders in this emerging area.

A city full of firsts

As a sign of its excellent network integration, after a decade the dimensions and range of the T1 and T2 tramlines meet local requirements well. In spring 2022, daily ridership was around 95 500, with a roughly 60/40 split in favour of T1 over T2. For comparison; in 2013 this figure was 83 000/day.

As an additional incentive for switching to public transport, Divia offers unlimited free travel on summer weekends for everyone under the age of 26. For 2022 this July-August offer has been expanded to include 30 free minutes access to the DiviaVelodi bicycle-sharing service.

As a city which prides itself on its pioneering spirit, Dijon aims to become the first ‘hydrogen city’ in France. Two local production and distribution facilities for green hydrogen – generating electricity to power the process from recycled waste and solar panels – are being built in the north and south of the city. The first is planned to go online in 2023.

By 2030 the ambition is to have over 200 vehicles (buses, recycling lorries and service vehicles) powered by hydrogen, saving 1750t of COper year.