May 23, 2016

Keeping up with the Bavarians

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Significant passenger growth in the past 12 years is forcing Munich Transport (MVG) to engage in a variety of projects in order to continue to offer a high-level of service. CEO Herbert König reflects on the challenges MVG faces to deliver the required improvements with Kevin Smith.

FAMOUS internationally for its Oktoberfest beer festival, gothic architecture and the success of its renowned football team, Munich is Bavaria's cultural and economic powerhouse. It is also Germany's third largest city, with 5.6 million people living in the metropolitan area, and 1.6 million in the city limits, giving Munich the highest population density in the country.

Strong economic growth and low unemployment in the region have made Munich an attractive destination, with the city's population growing steadily since the 1980s. Indeed patronage on Munich Transport (MVG) services has increased rapidly in recent years: MVG carried 555 million passengers across its U-Bahn, light rail and bus operations in 2015, an increase of 2% year-on-year, and the operator is currently working to expand and upgrade its networks in order to keep up with current and projected future demand.

Munich C2"Compared with other German cities, in Munich we enjoy the special situation of not having to fight for more passengers," says MVG CEO Mr Herbert König. "On the contrary, we have to tackle the challenge of conveying over 100 million more passengers annually today than we did in 2004 - that's 28% more users than 11 years ago."

Among the solutions to improve last mile is a new bike sharing scheme, MVG Bike, which commenced in October 2015, while MVG cooperates with three car sharing providers, and offers opportunities to buy public transport tickets and hire bikes through two market-leading apps: MVG Fahrinfo München, which sold 3 million tickets in 2015, more than double the previous year, and MVG more. "Our strategy is to continue developing MVG into a holistic mobility provider for Munich," König says.

However, major Infrastructure improvements are considered the best way of delivering the desired long-term improvements in capacity.

Specifically there is significant emphasis on enhancing the city's U-Bahn network. In July 2015, Munich city council approved the 3.8km extension of U5 from Laimer Platz to Pasing. Plans for the project envisage the addition of three new stations, and a construction start date of 2019 is "feasible" according to König, with the city of Munich now considering funding options for the project. The line will require the purchase of three extra trains as well as "urgently required investment in existing infrastructure."

"The Oktoberfest station, Theresienwiese, would have to be expanded to four tracks for a U5 extension to prevent the U-Bahn from collapsing during the beer festival because the new U5 link to and from Pasing will result in a massive increase in passenger volumes in both directions," König says.

MVG is similarly touting the U9 bypass project as a means of relieving pressure on existing inner-city routes and stations by creating new route options and reducing journey times. "The U9 bypass will be the key to the development of the entire Munich underground network when increasing frequencies will no longer be possible in a few years' time," König says. "We are currently intensifying plans for this project and hope for the political support and decisions to match."

Station upgrades are also receiving significant attention. The largest project is a redevelopment of Sendliger Tor, which encompasses two underground stations serving lines U1, U2, U7 and U8, and U3 and U6, and is due to get underway in spring 2017. Extensive conversion work is planned at platform level, with additional connecting tunnels, exits and changes to existing stairwells and escalators in order to improve passenger flow, as well as general improvements to improve accessibility for disabled passengers. Elsewhere renovation of the mezzanine of Marienplatz station was recently completed, while more general improvement works to enhance appearances and increase efficiency are underway at locations across the network.

Light rail

The light rail network is also set for expansion. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on February 26 for the 2.7km extension of Line 25, which will increase the total length of the network to 82km. The €18m Steinhausen tram extension project will utilise 1.4km of existing infrastructure between Max Weber Platz and Vogelweideplatz, and 1.3km of new track to the S-Bahn station at Berg am Laim. The line is funded by the state government of Bavaria and will add six stations to the network, taking the total to 172 when it opens in December.

General network improvements are also identified as required, for example a third track is planned at Munich Main Station to relieve a bottleneck. Further ahead, bypass projects are planned in the west and north of the city to relieve city centre routes, with part of the north bypass through the Englischer Garten expected to use an energy storage system to enable catenary-free operation. However, securing approval and funding for these projects is proving problematic.

"Regrettably political decisions are still pending on both these tram projects as well as for other potential extensions of the network in the north and west of the city," König says.

Private financing is touted as an alternative method to overcome funding shortfalls in some countries and König says some bus projects have benefited from this approach in Munich; a furniture store co-financed one line, the terminus of which is on its premises, while a brewery is meeting part of the overheads for another project. König says this made the project possible because without these subsidies operation would not have been economically feasible due to lack of demand. However, he is sceptical about entirely relying on this approach.

"Undoubtedly, one or more future projects will be financed using loans," he says. "However, we consider general PPP models to be more expensive, especially in the long run."

Securing funding for improvements to existing infrastructure is also proving a challenge. MVG estimates that it will require €2.5bn by 2025 for maintenance, modernisation and densification of its existing network. However, with funding for these projects only partially secured from fare revenues and the public utilities owned by MVG's parent company, SWM, König says MVG, like all German transport authorities, is urgently waiting for the federal government and states to commit to co-financing essential projects that will place local transport services on a secure and adequate long-term footing.

"The city council has realised the basic urgent need for further extension of the U-Bahn and tram," he says. "Now it is important that the right extension priorities are set."

With long-term infrastructure projects taking time to come to fruition, one area where MVG has secured the resources it requires is for investment in new rolling stock.

It recently began receiving 22 new Siemens Avenio LRVs, with the order consisting of nine two-section, nine three-section, and four four-section vehicles. The two and three-sections trams will operate in multiple accommodating up to 260 passengers on lines 20 and 21, where patronage has soared due to the expansion of the university at Dachauer Strasse. The new vehicles will also enable the deployment of high-capacity LRVs currently used on lines 20 and 21 to other parts of the network while using coupled-vehicles can save energy by allowing the use of shorter trams at weekends.

The contract with Siemens includes an option for 124 further vehicles which König says provides MVG with the flexibility to order new LRVs well into the 2020s. "In calculating the batches we took into account predictable replacement needs, increased frequencies on the existing network and any additional needs for new line sections such as the north and west bypasses," he says. "Those trams can be ordered as soon as the green light is given for these new line sections."

For the U-Bahn, 21 new Siemens six-car C2 trains are currently undergoing approvals ahead of introduction on the network this year. The €185m order placed in 2010 was MVG's largest for rolling stock and it also includes two options for another 23 metro trains (a total of 276 cars) which expire in 2016 and 2020 respectively, and potentially increases the investment to €550m. The trains have a maximum speed of 90km/h and capacity for 940 passengers, including 220 seated.

In order to accommodate the new trains, another U-Bahn rolling stock maintenance depot is planned in the medium term, with the location now fixed and planning for the project underway. In addition by 2019 the network will utilise a larger control centre, reflecting continually expanding operations.

While signalling and electrification system improvements and modernisation is continuing, with significant sums allocated to these activities in 2016, König says automation and driverless operation on the U-Bahn is not considered an option at this stage. "On the one hand because U-Bahn frequencies cannot be increased by driverless trains so there would be no improvement in efficiency," König says. "And on the other, operating with drivers is still the more economical alternative."

MVG is clearly thinking carefully about the future of its network and how to continue to offer a reliable and pleasant service as demand continues to grow. Ahead of the start of the 2016 timetable, the operator announced a 1.2% increase in service frequency, including extended operating hours on U4 and U6, and the introduction of longer vehicles with increased capacity.

Within the confines of restricted budgets and drawn-out approval processes for infrastructure improvements, MVG provides a good example for other city operators facing the dilemma of how to squeeze more out of their existing networks to help keep their citizens moving. However, König understands that this cannot continue forever. He says that 2016 must be the year of decisions so that MVG can realistically meet its long-term capacity needs.

"We need a yes to the Westtangente tram project, to make the U9 bypass a priority and also a breakthrough in the second cross-city S-Bahn route," he says. "Our potential to increase capacity will be exhausted in a few years, therefore we need the right decisions for the right projects now."

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