Passenger Rail, Research & Development, Rolling stock & Rail Vehicle Design

Alstom keeping its options open with catenary-free choices

Reims tramway. Photo: Oliver Probert

Alstom Systems Solutions Director Jean-François Blanc says the company’s flexible approach to light rail projects is ideal for a mode designed to fit into an existing transport setting.

Blanc recently spoke at the Australasian Railway Association’s Light Rail 2019 conference, about how the company is pressing forward with battery and supercapacitor onboard power supply solutions to facilitate ‘wire free’ operations, but is also delivering its alternate, third rail ground-based power supply system, known as APS.

“Alstom aims to have the widest range of catenary free solutions,” Blanc told the Melbourne conference last week. “The approach for us is not one system that we want to compare to the competition, but instead to say, ‘What’s the best fit for a city or environment?’

“I can tell you that no environment, no project is like another. There’s a lot of factors that go into that choice.”

Broadly speaking, he says those factors break down into three categories: environmental, including temperature and climate factors; desired cost, both capital and ongoing; and the key elements of the proposed asset, including uphill and downhill sections, the number and type of intersections, the desired number and length of rollingstock, and so on.

Blanc, who spoke with Rail Express ahead of the event, says this versatile approach to light rail solutions is ideal for a mode which is desired for its flexibility.

“Light rail is expandable, in terms of range but also in terms of capacity and performance,” he said in January. “Light rail can handle from around 3,000 passengers per hour per direction, up to around 13,000, and once you’ve got the infrastructure you can go up to 13,000 with minimal major infrastructure construction.”

Blanc says Alstom encourages customers to leave the specifications of light rail projects as open as possible, so a thorough analysis can be conducted during tender stage, both on capital expenditure, and operating costs. He says striking the balance between capital and operational expenditure goes a long way towards finding the best solution for catenary free operation.

A system like APS may represent a higher capital expenditure than onboard energy systems, but in turn has the same performance outputs as catenary in terms of gradient, and represents a relatively low operational cost. Onboard energy systems represent a different balance of costs, with the energy systems certainly not designed to last as long as the 30-year lifetime of the rollingstock. The dynamics of these different options are further influenced by the length of the route, the length of desired catenary free sections, and the number of vehicles in the fleet, which contributes significantly to the capital and operational expenditures of the onboard energy system solution.

For now, Blanc says Alstom is doing a good job of presenting all the options to the market.

“In July 2018 we opened the Nice Line 2 system, fully with supercapacitors using a safe ground charging system. Today in Taiwan we are delivering trams to expand their light rail system, with supercapacitors using overhead charging point,” he told Rail Express.

“But in Qatar we are delivering APS, because the temperatures are so high that there would be too much energy demand to keep onboard energy systems cool.”

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