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Keeping the pulse of the city alive

Posted: 15 February 2008 | Herbert Dombrowsky, CEO, VAG Nuremberg and Rainer Müller, Managing Director, VAG Nuremberg | No comments yet

After more than 125 years of operating a mass transit system, Nuremberg can boast a long tradition of quality public transportation. What began in 1881 with just a few horse-drawn carriages, is now a modern company with a vast route network. Today, VAG Nuremberg looks to the future, investing in new projects that integrate goals of mobility, safety and environmental protection.

VAG is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Städtische Werke Nuremberg GmbH, which means it is also owned by the city of Nuremberg. It supplies local public passenger transportation in the Nuremberg metropolitan region and in the neighboring cities of Fürth and Erlangen. The primary goal is to provide passengers with the highest level of service while using resources as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. The company stands for safety, reliability, innovation and a focus on customers’ needs.

After more than 125 years of operating a mass transit system, Nuremberg can boast a long tradition of quality public transportation. What began in 1881 with just a few horse-drawn carriages, is now a modern company with a vast route network. Today, VAG Nuremberg looks to the future, investing in new projects that integrate goals of mobility, safety and environmental protection.VAG is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Städtische Werke Nuremberg GmbH, which means it is also owned by the city of Nuremberg. It supplies local public passenger transportation in the Nuremberg metropolitan region and in the neighboring cities of Fürth and Erlangen. The primary goal is to provide passengers with the highest level of service while using resources as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. The company stands for safety, reliability, innovation and a focus on customers’ needs.

After more than 125 years of operating a mass transit system, Nuremberg can boast a long tradition of quality public transportation. What began in 1881 with just a few horse-drawn carriages, is now a modern company with a vast route network. Today, VAG Nuremberg looks to the future, investing in new projects that integrate goals of mobility, safety and environmental protection.

VAG is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Städtische Werke Nuremberg GmbH, which means it is also owned by the city of Nuremberg. It supplies local public passenger transportation in the Nuremberg metropolitan region and in the neighboring cities of Fürth and Erlangen. The primary goal is to provide passengers with the highest level of service while using resources as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. The company stands for safety, reliability, innovation and a focus on customers’ needs.

A big family under one roof

Every day, VAG’s 400 buses, trams and subways are in almost constant motion, covering a distance that is equivalent to circumnavigating the globe not just once – but twice! 1,800 employees work as drivers, in the operations control centre, customer support offices, workshops and administration offices. Every day, they ensure that people in Nuremberg’s metropolitan region are able to take advantage of our widespread route network. In 2007, 173 million people used VAG in the metropolitan area.

The operations control centre

Every day, 24 hours a day, the centre controls the entire public transportation system in Nuremberg, Fürth and Erlangen. Supported by computers, powerful software and various communications systems, 70 VAG employees have an overview of the entire network. They are experts at handling emergencies or malfunctions. If needed, they can use a dedicated line to alert medical service crews. Or, in the case of a delay or malfunction, they can quickly coordinate and deploy buses or taxis as alternate transportation.

Nuremberg boasts an unusual feature in the transportation industry: the customer service phone line is integrated into the control centre to handle customer inquiries. This feature allows employees to provide accurate, up-to-date information on the system’s operational status. During peak times, six employees can take up to 600 calls per day, working in shifts from 7am to 9pm. At that point, the control centre’s transportation managers take over the customer service phone line.

The maintenance workshops

To keep everything rolling smoothly and safely, VAG operates several specialised maintenance workshops. 130 employees in VAG’s Nuremberg-Langwasser workshop complex, for example, ensure the subway cars are always in peak condition and operations-ready. A wide variety of skilled specialists – from the upholsterers and joiners to the mechatronic technicians – work side by side to guarantee the fleet’s safety and availability.

The environmentally configured “Heinrich-Alfes-Strasse” maintenance facility was opened in 2003 to service the trams. Designated by the VDV (Association of German Transport Undertakings) as a model facility, the premises are also home to Germany’s biggest roof-top photovoltaic system.

The bus maintenance bays in Nuremberg, Fürth and Erlangen service and prepare 260 buses for their daily runs. The main bus repair facility in Nuremberg-Schweinau is equipped to handle all tasks, including inspections, repairs, and overhauls.

The latest vehicle technology

Besides performing maintenance and repairs, the workshops also play a major role in the evaluation and introduction of new vehicle technologies. Since 1984, VAG, along with various industry segments, has been periodically testing innovative drive systems on buses such as natural gas, fuel cells, or hybrid systems until they are ready for series production. Today, the company has one of Germany’s biggest natural gas-powered fleets. Its special low-noise/low-emission buses are identified with the pro-environment Blue Angel certification label.

The Variobahn low-floor tram: new to Nuremberg

Nuremberg’s entire tram fleet will feature a new kind of tram by the summer of 2008. Eight new, low-floor Variobahn trams will make Nuremberg’s 49 railcars fully capable of accommodating pushchairs and wheelchairs, particularly when entering or exiting a railcar.

At 34 meters in length, the five-unit Variobahn trams are slightly shorter than the four-unit GT8N Citybahn trams. But they offer the same passenger capacity, with 87 seats and an ability to carry 222 passengers.

The manufacturer, Stadler, received the ?24 million contract to build the vehicles in 2005 after a Europe-wide request for bids. Through the Municipal Transport Funding Law, the Bavarian government is subsidising 50% of the cost of the first six Variobahn trams. There is no subsidy for vehicles seven and eight. Their procurement is being shared with the Münchner Verkehrsgesellschaft (MVG). The arrangement means that both companies benefit from more favorable terms.

Superior riding comfort thanks to air suspension

A big advantage of the Variobahn trams is the kit concept, which enabled VAG to choose most of the technical details and furnishings. A new feature in the Nuremberg variant is air suspension. As in VAG’s other low-floor vehicles, the air suspension feature makes for a very comfortable ride, reducing vibrations and decreasing the vehicle’s interior noise level. In addition, it ensures that the tram’s low floors are always at the same level as the platform’s edge. The gearless drive technology contributes to a quiet ride. The Variobahn received an EU award in 2002 for this feature. The driving force of the water-cooled wheel hub motors, producing a total output of 360 kW, is transferred directly to the wheels. Since two of the five car units are low-floor cars (so-called palanquins), they require no wheels, and thus no wheel casings. The design enhances the interior passenger space. Thanks to the additional double-doors, the Variobahn trams also allow crowds of people to get on and off more quickly and safely. The Variobahn trams are also eco-friendly, require no transmission oil and they have a special, built-in system that feeds braking energy back into the mains circuit.

RUBIN – a local transport star

Apart from trams, VAG will also open a new chapter in the history of subway operation in 2008 when the company introduces Germany’s first fully automatic subway.

The subway will operate on the new U3 subway line between Maxfeld station in the north and Gustav-Adolf-Strasse station in the southwest of the city. In phase 1, the automatic subway will operate in “mixed” mode. It will use part of the line network and six stations of the existing subway line U2. Then, in phase 2, the entire U2 line (Röthenbach – Airport) will be converted to automatic operation. All of these changes will occur without interrupting services. Ultimately, VAG will accomplish several important goals: improved service, more frequent trains, greater technical reliability, and lower operating costs.

Automatic operation will enable VAG to deploy trains in response to demand. For example, during periods with high passenger volumes, trains will be able to run at 100-second intervals over the U2 line from Rathenauplatz to Rothenburger Strasse. Automatic operation will result in a cut in customer waiting times and an increase in passenger volume.

Modern technology will operate the subway. Computers in the vehicle, along the track, in the interlocking system, and at the operations control centre will synchronize operations, exchange data and initiate processes such as start-up, acceleration, braking and the operation of doors.

The project is running under the name RUBIN (Realisierung einer automatisierten U-Bahn in Nuremberg = Implementation of an automated subway in Nuremberg) and is being implemented by VAG on behalf of the city of Nuremberg. Siemens is the prime contractor. The RUBIN project has been running since 2001, following an assessment of the prospects in the SMARAGT feasibility study.

Costs and benefits

The project is being largely financed by the central government, the Free State of Bavaria, the city of Nuremberg and VAG. The first section (Maxfeld to Gustav-Adolf-Strasse) will cost a total of €325 million.

Despite the substantial investment costs, the fully automatic subway will be less expensive to operate than a conventional, driver-operated subway. Because of optimised acceleration, running and braking operations, automatically controlled trains consume less power. Turnaround times are also significantly shorter and vehicles can be deployed at any time to meet changing demands. With no need to recruit new drivers for operating the U3, there will be a reduction in personnel costs.

Drivers, whose services are no longer needed for the automated trains, will be trained as service personnel to provide more points of contact for passengers. But the new service personnel will also be on hand to deal with unforeseen problems and to provide and organise additional assistance. If needed, they can step in and control the vehicles via an emergency driver’s console.

Project status

Behind the scenes, work on the project is progressing day and night. The subway stations of the first section are already finished. Nuremberg’s public works department has now started work on the second construction section – the northern subway stations, Kaulbachplatz and Friedrich-Ebert-Platz. The necessary line equipment for subway line U3 is already installed along its entire length. Other accomplishments include: the equipping of all stations with the technical components for platform and track monitoring; the adapting of interlocking switches along the route for shorter intervals between trains; and the installation and testing at the operations control centre of the new control system for subway lines U2 and U3.

VAG has been overseeing a three-month trial, since January 2008, to evaluate operations, procedures, and adherence to the timetable. So far, the trial has been conducted without passengers. But starting in June 2008, when the technical supervisory board of the government of Mittelfranken (Central Franconia) has approved the system for passenger use, passengers will be able to travel on scheduled services.

Investments in the infrastructure

Naturally, the existing network must continue to function efficiently in spite of the comprehensive extension of the line network. The cost of accomplishing this is considerable. Every year, VAG modernises approximately four kilometers of the tram network in addition to two kilometers of the subway rail network. Investments totaled €11 million in 2007 alone. This is money well spent, however. The new lines reduce vehicle wear and vibration while increasing passenger comfort. Today, compared to ten years ago, VAG can update much more rail footage far more quickly and at a lower cost.

Another high priority besides the extension of the rail network is the expansion of the communications infrastructure. VAG is focusing on converting the operational radio system to digital public access mobile radio. The conversion will improve transmission quality, increase data rates, and prioritise the handling of emergency calls. However, this work will affect more than just the radio system. Virtually all other telecommunications equipment for controlling and monitoring the Nuremberg subway has already been or is about to be converted to digital technology. They include the fire safety system with its dense network of detectors and the electronic loudspeaker systems. The communication needs of customers are also a high priority. The Nuremberg subway network has complete mobile phone coverage.

Focus on people

Although VAG has invested a tremendous amount of effort in technical innovations, it has not lost sight of the fact that ultimately efforts revolve around the company’s customers and employees. VAG takes its social obligations very seriously and is pursuing a host of projects to fulfill many aspects of those obligations.

More than 30 years ago, the cornerstone was laid at VAG with the largely barrier-free use of all public means of transportation. Since then, VAG has worked together with associations for the disabled to make the subway, tram, and bus systems accessible to the disabled. In Nuremberg, all subway stations are equipped with elevators. Nearly all of VAG’s vehicles are of low floor construction and folding ramps for wheelchair users are installed on newly acquired vehicles. To the extent possible, tram and bus stops will be gradually upgraded to ensure access to the disabled and will be fitted with guide strips for the blind. This commitment has also been widely recognised. The Conference of European Ministers of Transport (CEMT) and the European Forum for the Disabled organised a competition in 2003. VAG shared first prize with Grenoble, France, against 56 European competitors for its disabled-friendly facilities, transportation services and infrastructure.

From pre-school on, the needs of young passengers are of importance to VAG. For primary school children, traffic education is provided through police puppet theater and, since 2002, the Coolrider project. These programs aim to raise basic awareness of bus, rail, and tram systems as alternatives to the car. They also provide education about what to look out for and how to behave when using public transportation.

As a general principle, VAG believes in keeping passengers informed at all times about transportation in Nuremberg and the region. At its various Info-Mobil locations in Nuremberg, employees are available to field any questions relating to public transportation. VAG also publishes a quarterly customer magazine, VAGmobil, which contains a wealth of background information for its readers. And the company provides its subscription customers with up-to-date information by organising special events for them and providing a newsletter especially for this target group. VAG is in constant dialogue with multipliers in the region.

Employees as guarantor of quality

VAG guarantees that its employees receive high-quality basic and additional training that can be verified at any time. It encourages its employees to acquire new knowledge and consolidate skills, whether it’s information about new vehicle technologies, changes in technical processes, new tariffs, better communication techniques, first aid or improving English language skills. VAG’s driving schools and personnel department develop appropriate training for a particular target group and either implement or assist in implementing that training.

In 2007, the VAG Training Centre was awarded the Seal of Expertise of the Association of German Transportation Companies (VDV). What’s more, the bus driving school was recognised by the government in 2006 as an official training centre under the European Directive on the Qualification and Further Training of Professional Drivers.

Looking to the future

Committing to environmental protection and sustained development is one thing, but keeping those commitments is the real challenge. In a show of good faith, VAG signed the Sustained Development Charter of the International Union of Public Transport UITP in 2004. Under this charter, UITP members will, in a verifiable way, take into account the economic, ecological, and social consequences of all decisions in the interests of sustainability. Only members who document all standards and review them annually can sign. VAG can refer to comprehensive material here, including regular certifications in the area of sustained management.

On the way to a promising future

These are only a selection of the current VAG projects. Yet, it’s clear that today, as the largest local transport company in the Nuremberg metropolitan region, the company is ideally placed to carry passengers safely to their destinations. VAG is also poised and ready to meet tomorrow’s ecological and economic challenges.

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