WITH a population of 485,000, Lyon is the third-largest city in France and one that has invested consistently in recent years in the development of its urban rail network. Since the opening of the first two lines in 2001, the light rail network has expanded to 66km, and the city operates three metro lines totalling 32km.

Between 2008 and 2014 Lyon's public transport authority invested around €1bn in the bus, trolleybus, light rail and metro networks and the authority's 2015-2020 capital programme, which was unveiled in December, allocates a further €1bn for network expansion, increasing capacity, and service enhancements.

"It is essential that we continue to develop the network and support the local economy," says Sytral president Mr Bernard Rivalta. "We also need to increase network capacity as ridership is growing. To avoid becoming victims of our own success, we must invest in new equipment - mostly metro trains and trams - to accommodate more passengers and maintain a quality offering."

Lyon M3R6295Sytral will need to achieve this in challenging economic circumstances. High interest rates, high unemployment, reduced consumer purchasing power and stagnating tax revenues combine to make the environment for investment a difficult one. However, Sytral says it expects to complete all of the projects listed in its investment programme without increasing its debt beyond the current €1.1bn.

Public consultation took place in January and February on plans for the 2.5km underground extension of metro Line B from Oullins mainline station in the district of La Saulaie to Lyon South Hospital, with an intermediate station serving Oullins town centre. The main objective of the project is to improve transport links to the central part of Oullins and the university hospital in Saint Genis Laval, which has more than 4000 staff, 1000 researchers, and 4000 students. Civil works are scheduled to start in early-2019 and the €394m extension will open in mid-2023.

Light rail line T1 will be extended east from its southern terminus at Debourg to Lyon East Hospital by 2019 at a cost of €114m. Construction of the 6.9km 14-station extension will be divided into two phases, starting with the 4.7km nine-station section between Debourg and an interchange with metro Line D at Mermoz.

The journey time between Debourg and Lyon East Hospital will be 23 minutes and the extension is expected to carry 24,000 passengers per day when it is fully operational. The extension will enable passengers from the south and east of the city to reach western districts without travelling through the city centre.

Preliminary studies were completed last November and a public inquiry will be launched early next year with the aim of starting construction in early 2017.

The 2015-2020 investment programme includes €24m towards a €66m project to connect the new stadium at Décines to Line T3 and the Rhône-Express airport line. This project is due to be completed at the end of this year.

Sytral has allocated €6.7m for the rollout of Wi-Fi or 4G to all metro stations, and studies into further expansion, including an extension of Line T1 from Lyon East Hospital to La Doua and a four-station branch off metro Line D to an interchange with mainline services at Alai west of the city. This project is being developed in conjunction with the so-called "ring of sciences," a planned 15km toll highway around the western periphery of Lyon linking the city's scientific industries. The metro line would include a park-and-ride station near the proposed road.

Rolling stock

Ridership on the metro rose by an average of 4.6% per year between 2001 and 2009 and increased 10.3% between 2009 and 2014. Sytral forecasts further growth of 12% on Line A, 30% on Line B, and 16% on Line D.

Sytral plans to invest €365m in metro equipment by 2020 as it seeks to add capacity to the network. As part of its Future Metro project, Sytral is automating Line B and plans to introduce a new fleet of 19 two-car MPL 16 driverless trains by 2020. This will enable the transfer of Line B's current fleet of 14 MPL 75 trains to Line C, supplementing the existing fleet of 18 MPL 75s on this line. A further eight MPL 16s will be delivered in time for the opening of the Lyon South Hospital extension in 2023.

The introduction of unattended train operation (UTO) on Line B will increase capacity from 7700 passengers per hour per direction to 10,100 by 2019 and 13,100 by 2024.

Last year Sytral awarded CAF a €23m contract to carry out heavy overhauls on the fleet of 36 two-car MPL 85 trains used on Line D. The first train was transferred to the CAF France plant at Bagnères-de-Bigorre at the end of last year and the programme is due to be completed by mid-2018.

Like the metro network, light rail lines have witnessed surging patronage as the system has extended its reach into more areas of the city. Ridership increased by 40% between 2009 and 2013, and additional capacity will be required by the end of the decade.

Sytral plans to order 17 43m-long low-floor LRVs, which will be delivered in 2020 for use on Line T4. The €60m project will include the lengthening of platforms on Line 4 and alterations to the depot at Mayzieu to accommodate longer vehicles. The 32m-long Alstom Citadis vehicles currently used on Line T4 will be transferred to lines T1 and T2 to increase capacity on these routes.

In addition, Sytral has allocated €29m for rolling stock refurbishment, €21m for improvements to metro and light rail operating systems, €71m for buildings and infrastructure, and €34m for fare collection, passenger information and CCTV systems.

Despite the pressure on public finances, Sytral's investment programme demonstrates that Lyon is still determined to continue with the tried-and-tested formula of incremental expansion that has transformed the city's public transport network in recent years.