Trams in France
Trams in France date from 1837 when a 15 km steam tram line connected Montrond-les-Bains and Montbrison in the Loire. With the development of electric trams at the end of the 19th century, networks proliferated in French cities over a period of 15 years. Although nearly all of the country's tram systems were replaced by bus services in the 1930s or shortly after the Second World War, France is now in the forefront of the revival of tramways and light rail systems around the globe. Only tram lines in Lille and Saint-Étienne have operated continuously since the 19th century; the Marseille tramway system ran continuously until 2004 and only closed then for 3 years (until 2007) for extensive refurbishment into a modern tram network. Since the opening of the Nantes tramway in 1985, more than twenty towns and cities across France have built new tram lines. As of 2013, there are 25 operational tram networks in France, with 3 under construction and 4 more planned. France is also home to Alstom, a leading tram manufacturer.
The girder railEdit
One of the key inventions in the world history of trams was that of the girder rail developed in 1852 by Frenchman Alphonse Loubat. It brought the tram track down to road level, avoiding accidents to pedestrians and other vehicles caused by the standard protruding rail used until then. Inspired by John Stephenson of New York City, it was in Paris that Loubat built the first line of this type, for horse trams, which was inaugurated on 21 November 1853 in connection with the 1855 World Fair. On a trial basis, it ran along the banks of the Seine from the Place de la Concorde to the Pont de Sèvres in the village of Boulogne.
Several French cities were equipped with horse-tram networks towards the end of the 19th century. In Paris, Tramways Sud operated horse trams from 1875 to 1901. In Marseille, horse trams operated by Compagnie Générale Française de Tramways entered service in 1876 on a number of routes including the Canebière. In Strasbourg, horse tram services began in 1877.
As horse trams presented a number of disadvantages (need for several teams of horses per vehicle per day, relatively slow speed, droppings on the roadway), it was not long before various mechanical traction systems came into use. These included:
- Compressed air systems, first introduced in Nantes in 1879 with Mékarski compressed air cars operating between Doulon and the Gare Maritime. Initially there was a fleet of 22 trams, two locos and four open-topped double-deck trailers. The first line was just over 6 km long, built to standard gauge and was mostly level, running along the quays of the Loire. Mekarski trams were also operated in Paris (1887), Vichy (1895), Aix-les-Bains (1897), Saint-Quentin (1899), and La Rochelle (1901).
- Steam traction was introduced fairly widely in the 1880s and 1890s, in most cases for relatively short periods as electric trams were soon to follow. For example, the Versaille Tramway started using steam trams for the stretch to Saint-Cyr in 1889 before electrification in 1895. In Strasbourg, there were steam trams from 1879 to 1899 although electrification began in 1895. Marseille's steam trams came in 1892, shortly before their electric counterparts in 1900.
Although Werner von Siemens demonstrated the electric tram in 1881 at the International Electrical Exhibition in Paris, it was not until 1890 that the first électric tram was opened in Clermont-Ferrand, and in 1895 the Tramway de Versailles was converted from steam power to electric power. While electricity offered considerable benefits including ease of operation, many municipalities were reluctant to bring overhead cabling into their city centres. Nevertheless, over the next 15 years, well over 100 standard and small gauge electric tram networks came into operation.
Most of France's tram systems closed during the 1930s or in the post-war years. The only systems which have remained in continuous use are those in Lille, Marseille and Saint-Étienne but even these were extensively reduced in size before the recent revival.
Today's tram networksEdit
Over the past 30 years, a rapidly growing number of France's cities have developed modern tramways or light rail networks. At present[when?], there are 22 modern tram systems spread right across the country (excluding the three trams-on-tyres services). Many of these are being extended while at least seven other municipalities are in the process of planning or acquiring new tram networks.
- The most popular rolling stock is the Citadis tram from Alstom, designed by RCP Design Global agency. This model serves 10 of the current networks. In many cases, the vehicles have been restyled or customised: for example the transport authority for the Nice area required special external styling, greater passenger accessibility and battery support for travelling though the city centre without the need for overhead cables.
- Alstom also produced the earlier Tramway Français Standard or TFS which continues to run in five networks including Grenoble and Nantes where it has been specially adapted to provide accessibility.
- The Canadian manufacturer Bombardier has delivered a variant of its Flexity Outlook series to Marseille with special styling from MBD Design giving the front of the tram the appearance of the bow of a ship. The Eurotram, initially developed by Socimi of Italy. It is used in the extensive Strasbourg tram network with innovations including a powered wheelchair ramp, wide internal gangways and provision for wheelchairs and pushchairs.
- The trams for the revamped Lille network were supplied in the early 1990s by the Italian company Breda with styling by Pininfarina. The Paris region recently opted for Avanto rolling stock on its tram-train line from Aulnay-sous-Bois to Bondy.
- The most extensive tram systems in France today are those in Lyon (6 lines, 78 km), Paris/Île-de-France (9 lines, 104.7 km), Montpellier (4 lines, 60 km), Strasbourg (6 lines, 55 km), Nantes (3 lines, 44 km) and Bordeaux (3 lines, 66 km).
- Most modern trams are designed to travel at up to 80 km per hour while tram-trains may have a top speed of 100 km per hour.
- While most cities discontinued the use of trams in favour of buses in the middle of the last century, a few of the original lines have survived without interruption. These include the 3 km line through the tunnel at the centre of Marseille, the two lines in Lille which go back to 1909 and the line in Saint-Étienne which has been operating ever since 1881.
Current tramway systemsEdit
The following French towns and cities now have light rail or tram systems:
In addition to the above French tram systems, two tramways cross the border into France from neighbouring countries, although in both cases the proportion of the system in France is quite small:
Recent technical developmentsEdit
The revival of tram networks in France has brought about a number of technical developments both in the traction systems and in the styling of the vehicles.
Trams on tyresEdit
A recent development of tramway technology has been the guided bus (or tram on tyres), a rubber-tyred vehicle guided by a fixed rail in the ground, which draws current from overhead electric wires like a conventional tram.
Two incompatible systems exist:
- The Guided Light Transit designed by Bombardier Transportation which has been adopted in Nancy and Caen. Here a double flanged wheel between the rubber tyres follows the guidance rail.
- The Translohr system, used along a 14-km line at Clermont-Ferrand, where a special rail is grasped by a pair of metal guide wheels set at 45° to the road and at 90° to each other.
In both cases the weight of the vehicle is borne by rubber tyres on bogies to which the guide wheels are attached. Power is supplied by overhead lines, or by rechargeable batteries in areas where there are no overhead wires.
The Translohr system is intended for guidance-only operation, whereas the Bombardier system can be driven as a normal bus as requirements dictate, such as journeys to the depot. Unlike rail trams, the vehicles have a steering wheel, though it is not used when following the guidance rail. Because the Translohr tram cannot move without guidance, it is not classified as a bus. Hence the Translohr vehicles in Clermont-Ferrand are not equipped with licence plates.
APS third railEdit
The ground-level power supply system known as APS or Alimentation par le sol uses a third rail placed between the running rails, divided electrically into eight-metre segments with three-metre neutral sections in between. Each tram has two power collection skates, next to which are antennas that send radio signals to energise the power rail segments as the tram passes over them. At any one time, no more than two consecutive segments under the tram should actually be live. Alstrom developed the system primarily to avoid intrusive power supply cables in the sensitive area of the old city of Bordeaux.
The Eurotram used in Strasbourg, Milan and Porto was developed by Socimi of Italy. The Eurotram has a modern design that makes it look almost as much like a train as a tram, and has large windows along its entire length.
The Citadis tram, flagship of the French manufacturer Alstom, enjoys an innovative design combining lighter bogies with a modular concept for carriages offering more choices in the types of windows and the number of cars and doors. The recent Citadis-Dualis, intended to run at up to 100 km/h, is suitable for stop spacings ranging from 500 m to 5 km. Dualis is a strictly modular partial low-floor car, with all doors in the low-floor sections.
Tramway museum linesEdit
In addition to recent developments in France's urban areas, the Deûle Valley tram museum line operates near Lille. It runs along a 3 km track from Marquette-lez-Lille to Wambrechies and features several tram vehicles dating back to the beginning of the 20th century.
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Media related to Trams in France at Wikimedia Commons