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Brussels public transport is on the move

Posted: 13 June 2007 | ET | No comments yet

Just like in every city, it is becoming more and more of a challenge to adapt public transport to the needs of modern society. An increasingly efficient and effective service for a larger number of passengers is a challenge faced by many public transport companies. And Brussels is no exception. The public transport provider S.T.I.B. (Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles) is on target to meet this challenge and the developments of the last few years can be considered nothing short of a revolution. As in so many other European cities, the tram plays an important role in this revolution. This article provides an overview of the many changes to the Brussels public transport network, with particular emphasis on the tram.

Over the past few years, our company has been constantly on the move” begins Marcel Carême, director of the Tram mode. “Changes are happening at an incredible pace and they concern almost all fields. Improving passenger comfort by bringing new trams into service, meeting passenger demand more effectively by making changes to the network, measures to increase safety such as the automatic braking system BCM, improving the commercial speed by creating more exclusive lanes and the Utopia system, the PACTram which is aimed at improving relations between tram drivers and passengers… These are just a few aspects of the big facelift that the Brussels public transport provider is experiencing and which I would like to explain in more detail in this article.”

Just like in every city, it is becoming more and more of a challenge to adapt public transport to the needs of modern society. An increasingly efficient and effective service for a larger number of passengers is a challenge faced by many public transport companies. And Brussels is no exception. The public transport provider S.T.I.B. (Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles) is on target to meet this challenge and the developments of the last few years can be considered nothing short of a revolution. As in so many other European cities, the tram plays an important role in this revolution. This article provides an overview of the many changes to the Brussels public transport network, with particular emphasis on the tram. Over the past few years, our company has been constantly on the move” begins Marcel Carême, director of the Tram mode. “Changes are happening at an incredible pace and they concern almost all fields. Improving passenger comfort by bringing new trams into service, meeting passenger demand more effectively by making changes to the network, measures to increase safety such as the automatic braking system BCM, improving the commercial speed by creating more exclusive lanes and the Utopia system, the PACTram which is aimed at improving relations between tram drivers and passengers… These are just a few aspects of the big facelift that the Brussels public transport provider is experiencing and which I would like to explain in more detail in this article.”

Just like in every city, it is becoming more and more of a challenge to adapt public transport to the needs of modern society. An increasingly efficient and effective service for a larger number of passengers is a challenge faced by many public transport companies. And Brussels is no exception. The public transport provider S.T.I.B. (Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles) is on target to meet this challenge and the developments of the last few years can be considered nothing short of a revolution. As in so many other European cities, the tram plays an important role in this revolution. This article provides an overview of the many changes to the Brussels public transport network, with particular emphasis on the tram.

Over the past few years, our company has been constantly on the move” begins Marcel Carême, director of the Tram mode. “Changes are happening at an incredible pace and they concern almost all fields. Improving passenger comfort by bringing new trams into service, meeting passenger demand more effectively by making changes to the network, measures to increase safety such as the automatic braking system BCM, improving the commercial speed by creating more exclusive lanes and the Utopia system, the PACTram which is aimed at improving relations between tram drivers and passengers… These are just a few aspects of the big facelift that the Brussels public transport provider is experiencing and which I would like to explain in more detail in this article.”

Flexity Outlook Trams for improved passenger comfort

Over the past few years, the S.T.I.B has become a bit of a victim of its own success. Public transport in Brussels has experienced a real boom, and of course passenger comfort has dropped in direct proportion to the rising number of customers. “We were already aware of this issue, which is why we ordered the new Flexity Outlook T3000 and T4000 trams from Bombardier,” continues Marcel Carême. “In spring 2006 this new generation of trams made a first appearance on the Brussels network: the T3000, 32 metres long, 5 modules and a 189 passenger capacity. A few months later, its big brother the T4000 also made its entrance: 43 metres long, 7 modules and a 258 passenger capacity. In total, the Brussels transport provider ordered forty-nine T3000 trams and nineteen T4000 trams from Bombardier’s Belgian factory. At the moment twenty-seven T3000s and nineteen T4000s grace the Brussels cityscape. This investment has created the capacity to accommodate 6000 extra passengers, equivalent to an 18% increase of the tram offering. This increase directly tackles capacity problems on the network, which are due to a spectacular increase in passenger numbers in recent years.”

Comfort

“Seating represents 28% of the total capacity of the new vehicles, which is exceptional for a bi-directional tram. The seats are made of real leather. The quality of the rolling stock means there are less vibrations in the vehicle and on the ground and it also guarantees a more comfortable tram ride. A 100% low floor interior and wide doors offer easier access for all passengers, including persons with reduced mobility. A space is provided for wheelchairs in each vehicle.”

Safe and environmentally friendly

“Our new trams meet the very latest safety and environmental requirements, and they look great too,” adds Marcel Carême. “You can hardly hear the 3000 and 4000 trams when they go past, so both inside and outside the vehicles, you have a really low noise level. This is particularly important for people living around the tram lines. Like all modern trams, the new vehicles use electricity as their sole driving power, which means they do not emit polluting gases. The front and back of the 3000 and 4000 trams can resist a compression pressure of 40 tonnes. On the sides, a steel structure offers passengers optimum protection in the event of a lateral collision. In order to increase safety for our passengers, the new vehicles are equipped with a brand new BCM/ECFA speed control system developed by the French company Technicatome. It is a world first within the light rail sector. The system was developed at the request of the S.T.I.B. Research began in September 2003 and the first operational model was presented in May 2005. After a year of tests, the system was introduced on 6 March 2006. The most important improvements to the new network are:

  • continuous speed checks for trams in tunnels
  • efficient implementation of speed checks in areas where works are being carried out and at specific weak points on the aboveground network
  • the possibility to set off at full speed again after an emergency break due to excessive speed, in order to avoid any injuries among passengers (falls as a result of extreme slowing down)
  • monitoring driving behaviour in the equipped zones and an overview of the state of the equipment installed underground and in the trams

Constant tram speed checks provides the system with speed instructions for the driver, which is also the case for the metro.”

New visual identity

“With the arrival of the new trams, we have created a completely new visual identity. They were specially designed for Brussels in a bronze and grey steel livery, a nod to the various different Art Nouveau façades which feature on many of the main roads in Brussels. The interior design was meticulously created by the designer Axel Enthoven. High-quality materials such as wood, steel and leather were used. Indirect lighting emphasises the cosy elegance of the new trams and overheating in tropical temperatures is impossible, because the vehicles are fitted with air conditioning. Following the new trams, the whole S.T.I.B. fleet (trams, buses and new metros) was painted with a new palette. But it was not only the vehicles that were measured for a new look. In 2007 our drivers literally had their measurements taken for new uniforms. The grey and red tints of the new uniforms give our drivers a classy look and contribute to encouraging more respect towards them from passengers. To that effect, the PACTram project was also launched for the Tram mode.”

Improving passenger-driver relations

“At the end of 2004, the idea of ‘Considerate Service’ was launched,” explains Marcel Carême. “This idea was aimed at improving communication between employees and relations between passengers and drivers. The idea began to take shape in 2006 and a pilot group of representatives of all the different jobs in our mode examined the various requirements of these jobs. At the end of 2006, the projects were proposed and several were selected and applied in practice under the title PACTram by a working group. In the first instance, five projects were selected. The first is ‘[email protected] Tram’. Every two months, an internal magazine is published for and by the drivers. It contains all the latest news on our mode. Every Monday, the S.T.I.B. has a page in the Metro, a free newspaper that has a circulation of 1 million copies. The paper regularly features articles which focus on the different jobs in our mode. Making passengers more aware of the difficulties involved in the different jobs encourages respect among passengers. We have also started making a DVD on ‘good practices’. This DVD is based on the right-wrong principle and shows our drivers how they should react to certain hypothetical situations on the network. These DVDs were made by our drivers. The intention is to include this DVD in the training of new drivers in the future. Finally, a card was made with a list of useful numbers for customers to ring and a map showing black spots on our network in order to guarantee increased presence of staff in these areas. Drivers can hand out the numbers on this card to any customers with questions. This will enable us to provide customers with a better service.”

Matching supply with demand

The S.T.I.B. has been thinking of matching supply with demand more effectively for some time now. “On 14 July 2005, the Brussels regional government approved the new network that the S.T.I.B intends to extend in 2006 and 2008 in order to integrate the new infrastructure more effectively and to serve the city even better, more specifically with new lines between neighbourhoods. These changes to the network are taking place in five phases. The first three phases consisted of introducing the new rush hour tram line 24 (Schaerbeek – Boondael Station), the splitting of lines 3 and 23, extending line 56 to the ring road (new terminus at Marius-Renard in Anderlecht) and the extension of line 94 from Wiener to Herrmann-Debroux (Auderghem) in order to serve the east of the city even better. The network changes of 16 April 2007 (phase 4) with the introduction of the new line 25 (Rogier-Boondael Station), the extension of the high-performance line 23 to Gare du Midi (the new T3000 and T4000 for the first time in the North-South tunnel) were all great steps forward, but the big event is awaited on 2 July. The introduction of a new high-performance line 4, linking the north of the city to the south is the showpiece of this fifth phase. In April, the weekend night bus network NOCTIS came into being. So now nighthawks can travel all around Brussels by bus until 3 in the morning.”

Exclusive lanes and Utopia to increase commercial speed

“Offering a high-performance public transport network despite the increasingly heavy traffic is perhaps our greatest challenge” confesses Marcel Carême. “Creating exclusive lanes is one of the many measures we are taking to separate trams from heavy traffic in the city. In 2006, around 8.261 kilometres of tram tracks were separated from the rest of the traffic in exclusive lanes. This means that 71.53% of the tram network is now protected. But there is more work in store, because on 23 March 2006 the government approved the new VICOM 2006-2010 programme. In the long-term, this programme provides for separating 90% of the tram network from car traffic. This ambitious project should offer a solution for around 250 bottlenecks that have been identified on the network on three large tram lines (the Large Ring Lane, Louise and the future tram 4).”

Another system which should contribute to modernisation and improvements is UTOPIA. UTOPIA is a mechanism which is used to control traffic lights. The great advantage of this system is that it is a lot more reliable than a conventional system and that the development of the situation can be followed in real time. With a conventional control system, the tram follows the normal traffic light cycle: when the tram comes at the wrong time (for example when it has just turned red), the cycle can – at the very most – be shortened, but this doesn’t mean this it will turn green. With the UTOPIA system, cameras record the tram’s progress at different points. This information is sent to the traffic light controllers at the crossroads, which can then adjust the situation according to the information received. For example, the light can be immediately set to green or the green light can be made to last longer. Since the end of 2006 UTOPIA, has been in a test phase on the busy Avenue Louise. The first results are positive. According to a simulation, we can hope to increase the speed by about 15% without disrupting the rest of the traffic. Both of these measures should lead to a noticeable increase in our commercial speed,” concludes the director of the tram mode.

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