UTRECHT is a major railway hub and the city’s location in the heart of the Netherlands places it within an hour’s train journey of most of the country’s key economic centres. A major project to modernise and expand Utrecht Central - the country’s largest and busiest station - was completed in December and the area around the station is being transformed under the CU2030 project. One of the largest urban regeneration schemes in the Netherlands, CU2030 is creating a 21st century travel, retail, leisure and commercial hub around the station, reuniting the historic city centre and the station area to form a coherent urban core.
Urban transit is central to this revitalisation. CU2030 includes new bus lanes, a new station for the Nieuwegein/IJsselstein Fast Tram (SUNIJ), and a new €440m light rail line linking Central station with the University of Utrecht’s De Uithof campus. Utrecht has the busiest bus network in the Netherlands, and lines 12 and 28 to De Uithof are the busiest bus services in the country. Line 12 currently carries around 25,000 passengers per day and at peak times a 24m-long articulated bus leaves Utrecht city centre for De Uithof every 2-3 minutes, but overcrowding remains a problem.
Replacing Line 12 with the 8km light rail Uithof Line will more than double current public transport capacity on the route, and by 2020 the new line is forecast to carry 45,000 passengers per day.
The Uithof Line starts at Jaarbeursplein, the current terminus for SUNIJ services, before looping round beneath the northern approaches to Utrecht Central to reach platforms at Centrumzijde on the eastern side of the station. From here the line continues southeast, closely following the alignment of the heavy rail line to an interchange with Netherlands Railways (NS) intercity and regional services at Vaartsche Rijn, a new station on the lines to ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Arnhem, which opened in August 2016. The line continues to follow the Utrecht - Arnhem main line before turning north through Maarschalker weerd to reach Galgenwaard station, which will serve the stadium of football club FC Utrecht. Here the line rejoins the route of bus Line 12, serving a station Kromme Rijn in Rijnsweerd Zuid before crossing the A27 highway into De Uithof, where it serves Utrecht Science Park, with its Utrecht University, University of Applied Sciences, University Medical Centre and the children’s hospital, terminating at a park-and-ride station adjacent to the A28 highway. Stabling sidings at the terminus will accommodate up to 16 trams.
With only nine stations and up to 3km between stops, trams will operate at speeds of up to 70km/h and the line will have a commercial speed of 28km/h, offering a journey time of 17 minutes between Utrecht Central and De Uithof Park-and-Ride.
Preliminary works began on the project in 2011 and major construction commenced in September 2012. Royal BAM Group was awarded a contract in December 2014 to carry out infrastructure works, including the installation of track and catenary and construction of the line’s nine stations. BAM appointed Arcadis to design track, electrification, and other structures.
The project involves the installation of 37km of rail, 54km of cable trunking and 470 catenary masts. Edilon Sedra has designed, supplied and installed 7 track-km of Corkelast embedded ballastless track in various configurations with concrete/steel channels or concrete slabs. Both top-down and bottom-up installation methods have been employed on the project.
Siemens has supplied the five substations which feed the line’s 750V dc electrification system. The contract includes dc distribution systems, high-voltage distribution systems and transformers.
According to Mr Martijn Donders, the project’s testing and commissioning manager from Mott MacDonald, the project has presented a number of constructional challenges. This is particularly true at the eastern end of the route, where the line threads its way between the science park, hospitals, and the university campus. Careful attention has been needed in this area to maintain critical cabling and pipework during the construction period and to minimise vibration and electromagnetic interference, which could affect the operation of sensitive measuring equipment used by these institutions. Minimising disruption to bus Line 12 has been another priority.
The project faces a different set of challenges at the other end of the line. With more than 20 construction projects underway simultaneously around Utrecht Central station, the Uithof Line has numerous interfaces with other sites. A delay on one project here could push back the completion date of the light rail line and careful phasing of construction has therefore been critical to the successful delivery of the project, with close communication between all stakeholders. “East of the station we have four interfaces with other sites and a year ago it was decided to build another 12-storey building on top of the tram line,” Donders explains. “Naturally this is a challenge from a construction point of view.”
At the end of 2014, the Provice of Utrecht awarded CAF a contract to supply 27 five-section Urbos 100 low-floor LRVs, the first of which was unveiled at Nieuwegein depot in January. The bi-directional trams are entirely low-floor and are equipped with three-phase traction motors, based on IGBT technology. The trams have been prepared for battery operations using CAF’s ACR technology but will initially operate exclusively with the 750V dc overhead electrification system.
The Urbos 100 for the Uithof Line is 32.96m long, 2.65m wide and has a maximum speed of 70km/h. Each vehicle accommodates up to 216 passengers (at 4 passengers/m2), 62 of them seated with two spaces for wheelchairs. Running in pairs, 24 LRVs will be required to operate the peak timetable with three vehicles in reserve or undergoing maintenance. The first test run took place on the section of SUNIJ between Nieuwegein depot and Jaarbeursplein on February 2 and testing of the CAF vehicles on the Uithof Line is due to begin later this year.
The LRVs will be maintained by Stadler Rail under a contract signed with the Utrecht provincial government in December 2016. As part of the Uithof Line project Nieuwegein depot is being expanded to accommodate the CAF fleet with a new workshop and stabling sidings with capacity for up to 39 vehicles. The contract for construction of the stabling yard was awarded to Strukton Rail in December 2016.
Public transport ridership between Utrecht city centre and De Uithof is forecast to increase to 60,000 passengers per day by 2020, with 45,000 travelling by tram and 15,000 by bus. When it opens in mid-2018, the line will be served by eight trams per hour, ramping up to the full peak service of 16 trams per hour in time for the start of the new university year.
With the completion of the Uithof Line, attention will turn to the modernisation of SUNIJ, enabling through operation between the two lines from 2020. Looking further ahead there are also proposals to replace bus Line 28 with a light rail line, providing a second connection between Utrecht Central and De Uithof on an alignment serving the northern side of the city centre and Wittevrouwen.
Low-floor future for fast tram line
IN October 2016 the Utrecht provincial government unveiled plans to convert Utrecht’s sole existing light rail line, the Utrecht’s Nieuwegein/IJsselstein Fast Tram (SUNIJ) to a conventional tram line by 2020.
The project involves modernising infrastructure and replacing the ageing tram fleet with new low-floor LRVs, making SUNIJ compatible with the Uithof Line, which it meets at Utrecht Central.
The first part of SUNIJ opened in 1983 and large-scale renewals are now required on much of the line, although part of the route has already been modernised. The high-floor trams used on the line are also approaching life-expiry.
As part of the project, SUNIJ will be adapted for low-floor vehicles and in January the provincial government exercised an option with CAF for 22 Urbos 100 LRVs. The 41m-long seven-section articulated vehicles will be capable of operating in multiple with the 33m-long Urbos LRVs now being delivered for the Uithof Line. Each 74m-long formation will accommodate 490 passengers.
Stations on the Uithof Line are being constructed to accommodate 75m-long trams, which will enable through operation when the upgrading of SUNIJ is completed in 2020.
The total cost of infrastructure works for the modernisation project is estimated to be €141m. This excludes the cost of modernising the combined tram/bus depot at Nieuwegein, which is already being upgraded as part of the Uithof Line project. However, with the need to accommodate 22 additional trams, a second €40m phase of construction will be required.