WALKING on a warm summer's day through the centre of Bordeaux has become a far more pleasant experience in the past 10 years or so. Instead of noisy and polluting traffic, the streets are populated by pedestrians and a new symbol of the southwestern French city: the tram.

Steady investment in the light rail system in the past 15 years has established Bordeaux as arguably the pioneer of France's modern tram revolution.

In particular it was the first city to utilise Alstom's APS catenary-free power-supply system which has subsequently been installed in Reims, Angers and Orléans, and will be used in Tours when its network opens in September.

Many credit former prime minister and Bordeaux mayor, Mr Alain Juppé, for providing the vision and impetus to improve public transport in Bordeaux. He also possessed the political clout to secure funds for the project at a time when these types of investments were rare.

BordeauxPlanning for phase 1 of the LRT project commenced in 1995 with construction getting underway in 2000 and concluding in 2003-04. The initial network consisted of three lines totalling 24.7km and 53 stations which were built simultaneously. This included 10km of APS which, after overcoming early teething problems, was extended to 13.6km following various extensions of the three lines between 2004 and 2008 taking the overall network length to 43.3km and 84 stations.

The network is served by 64 Citadis LRVs, 52 of which are the seven-section 43.9m-long 402 variant which have capacity for up to 345 passengers and are operated on lines A and B. Line C is served by 12 five-section 302 vehicles which can transport up to 265 passengers, with up to 288,000 passengers using the service every day.

Systra has been active in Bordeaux since 1998 and is again involved in the latest extension plans which got underway in 2008. Phase 3 will add a further 15km to the network, as well as 600m of APS, when construction work, which started in August 2010, is completed in 2014. Services are due to begin in 2015 and are expected to boost daily ridership to 430,000.

Five expansion projects are underway, including a 3.6km, five-station extension of Line A from its western terminus at Merignac Centre to Pin Galant which includes 500m of APS. Line B is being extended west from Bougnard to Allouette, and north to Bordeaux Nord for a total of 4.3km and five stations, while an extension of Line C is divided into two phases. Work on the first phase, which like lines A and B commenced in mid-2012 and will be completed in 2015, will take the line north to Les Aubius where the exhibition centre is located and the new La Jallère depot is being built which will include a new APS test track. Construction on the second phase will start in 2015 and conclude in 2018 and extend the line south through Bègles to Villehave d'Ornon.

In addition, work began in 2012 on a new 7km, six-station tram-train line as part of the third phase and is also scheduled to be completed by 2015. The du Médoc Line, or Line F, will use Line C infrastructure in the city centre to Cracovie, where a short section of new track will be laid to Gare St Louis. From here the line will use mainline tracks north to the proposed terminus at Blanquefort.

The tram-train service will utilise mainline signalling as well as line-of-sight which is used on the tram network and operate at a maximum speed of 70km/h on mainline infrastructure, 10km/h faster than the light rail network.

Inevitably additional rolling stock is required to serve the extensions. Alstom is again delivering Citadis 402s for phase 3 of the project, and the first of 26 additional trams which will be used on lines A, B and C arrived in March. Four vehicles are currently being delivered per month and they will expand the fleet to 90 LRVs when delivery concludes in March 2014.

Phase 3bis

The extra LRVs will also enable a huge increase in the frequency of services. This is a major element of Phase 3bis of the network development programme which began this year and will last up to 2018.

Systra again secured a contract for this element in January as the lead partner in the Tisya consortium which also consists of Ingerop, Artelia, ECCTA and BLP/Signes Paysage. The group is currently studying how to reduce headways from their current peak minimum of four minutes to 2.5 minutes.

Mr Gilles Parmentier, systems manager at Tisya, the principal contractor working with Systra and three other partners on Phase 3bis, says additional tracks will be added to the existing lines to boost capacity through the city centre.

Work will also take place to improve the integration of the tram network with other transport modes.

The extensions are gradually connecting the city's five mainline stations while bus links are increasingly being coordinated to the tram schedule. Bicycle paths and a pedestrian scheme have also been introduced and will be expanded under the improvements, while 14 park-and-ride stations are planned. Parmentier says park-and-ride has already proven extremely popular with Bordeaux citizens and is a major contributor to reducing city centre traffic, particularly during the morning commute and at weekends.

Mr Philippe Petit, Systra's director for the southwest region of France, who is leading the work in Bordeaux, says one of the tasks the consultant is undertaking is to establish the optimum solution for operating services. A particular consideration for the investigation is managing traffic flows at road junctions given the increased tram traffic which will result from reduced headways and additional tracks, along with providing adequate capacity in the power supply for the expanded network.

Petit says the aim is to only operate the longer Citads 402 vehicles on the network and work is taking place to extend platforms at certain stations to reflect this.

"We only envision using the shorter trams during exceptional peak periods when a lot of people have to be moved very quickly," Petit says. "Bordeaux's new football stadium will be served by Line B and this could be one example of when these trams are used."

Phase 3bis also encompasses the construction of Line D, which will serve as a 10km extension of Line C to the northwest of Bordeaux and will include 16 stations, running from Quinconces to its terminus at Cantinolle. The contract with Alstom includes an option for another 30 LRVs which will be used on this line, taking the fleet up to 120 vehicles.

Petit says the goal is to issue a contract worth up to e184m for construction of the line. Securing land and relocation is taking up more than 25% of the cost of the project and to make sure it has minimal impact on existing buildings and infrastructure. The project has received a e5-6m grant from the "Grenelle" programme which was launched by the Sarkozy administration and is intended to boost investment in environmentally-friendly infrastructure. Construction is expected to begin in September next year."


While completion of Line D will mark the end of construction of this phase, Petit believes that Bordeaux's tram network will continue to evolve to reflect changes in the city and its population.

"We have been working with Bordeaux's transport authority which is now led by Mr Vincent Feltesse since the beginning to plan their network over 25 years," Petit says. "They have had a long-term vision throughout this process and these extensions were planned from the beginning. Bordeaux is a growing city and we are already looking beyond 2018 in order to integrate new areas into the public transport network. Further extensions could include adding a new line on the new bridge that is being built across La Garonne, but this of course will depend on funding."

Indeed constructing further extensions to the network will not happen unless they are considered to add value to the network. Extending Line A to the airport has been mooted as a potential extension, but Petit says this, like any other proposal, has to be considered with what the city and ultimately its citizens will gain from the project.

"We have to decide whether it is feasible to replace a bus with a tram, and whether investment is good in terms of its global cost," he says.

This philosophy of balancing investment with current and projected demand from citizens is holding the city in good stead as it continues to grow. Bordeaux then not only pioneered France's light rail revival, but it is continuing to set a strong example to others about how to manage their long-term plans for network expansion.