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Tramstore21: the use of peer reviews in building more sustainable and efficient tram depots

Posted: 15 December 2010 | Raphael du Cheyron Calvelli, Coordinator, Tramstore 21 and Niall Dolan, Industry Freelancer | No comments yet

TramStore21 is a European cooperation project that aims to improve transport efficiency and the urban integration of tram depots (stabling and maintenance infrastructures). Its main areas are: the urban integration of depots, technical cooperation between operators and contribution to the public transport community. The core participants of TramStore21 are STIB (Brussels public transport operator), RET (Rotterdam public transport operator, the Netherlands), Grand Dijon (Metropolitan Area Authority, France), the Blackpool Council (United Kingdom), and the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flows and Logistics (Dortmund, Germany) as a scientific partner.

TramStore21 is a European cooperation project that aims to improve transport efficiency and the urban integration of tram depots (stabling and maintenance infrastructures). Its main areas are: the urban integration of depots, technical cooperation between operators and contribution to the public transport community. The core participants of TramStore21 are STIB (Brussels public transport operator), RET (Rotterdam public transport operator, the Netherlands), Grand Dijon (Metropolitan Area Authority, France), the Blackpool Council (United Kingdom), and the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flows and Logistics (Dortmund, Germany) as a scientific partner.

TramStore21 is a European cooperation project that aims to improve transport efficiency and the urban integration of tram depots (stabling and maintenance infrastructures). Its main areas are: the urban integration of depots, technical cooperation between operators and contribution to the public transport community. The core participants of TramStore21 are STIB (Brussels public transport operator), RET (Rotterdam public transport operator, the Netherlands), Grand Dijon (Metropolitan Area Authority, France), the Blackpool Council (United Kingdom), and the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flows and Logistics (Dortmund, Germany) as a scientific partner.

These partners have planned to develop tramway services in the coming years; thus, they have to build a new tram depot in their respective cities. Four depots are being built under this framework: the new tram depot ‘Marconi’ for the South of Brussels (75 vehicles), the new tram depot ‘Beverwaard’ in the outskirts of Rotterdam (88 vehicles), the new depot ‘Starr Gate’ for the renewed tram scheme of Blackpool (16 new + 30 old vehicles), and the depot of the new tram network of Dijon (32 vehicles, still expandable up to 50). For all these depots, detailed planning started around 2008 and construction should begin in 2012.

A special feature of Dijon’s depot is that it will be located inside the location of an old national railway maintenance depot of the 1950s, where many persons in Dijon used to work. What is more, it will also host a bus depot for the city. Rotterdam’s depot roof will have parking facilities for up to 500 cars, so that people can park and ride by tram to the city centre. Blackpool had to take specific measures against rust because it is located on the seaside. Brussels’ depot included several measures to ensure a greater compatibility with its urban surrounding. All the buildings have been planned with attention on environment and urban insertion, for example, Blackpool and Brussels have chosen the BREEAM method of sustainable design.

This transnational project is supported by the European cooperation programme INTERREG North West Europe, and runs from 2008 to 2013. TramStore21 wants to increase, with the support of key partners like the European Union, interoperability and cooperation between public transport operators, and develop a common vision of building the next generation of tram depots.

Peer reviews

This article focuses specifically on the practice of peer review in planning infrastructures, as it is a main practice of this project. The goal of a peer review is to get an expert and independent review of a project or practice, involving qualified individuals with the related field into a technical discussion. The independent experts review the project, and state their remarks, questions or concerns.

Tramstore21 started to conduct peer reviews relating to the exchange of know-how concerning tram depots. This has provided numerous opportunities to achieve a discussion between several partners, outside any specific deadlines. The work consisted in identifying all elements of know-how that were useful, and then confronting each other’s local practices. The result, after having overcome the barriers to learn this specific process, is bringing interesting results, especially in terms of content and extending support networks for local experts.

Peer reviews work through TramStore21 working groups, where suitable colleagues meet regularly. The various partners organise a share of know-how, sometimes with external stakeholders and experts (other local institutions, economic and social actors, final beneficiaries), reviewing best practices relevant to tram depots.

Peer reviews are widely used in some professional sectors (academia and medicine), but not yet in public transport and local governments. We think that this should be more explored, especially between local operators, who do not have easy access to a wide network of experience.

There is no denying that including a peer review in a planning process is a supplementary step that requires efforts to be learned and practiced effectively, but the result is often worth the investment in time and resources, and avoids costly planning errors that may not be corrected afterwards.

Key features of the peer review

One of the main features of a good review process is that it is never too early to commence knowledge sharing via this method. It is vital that a good review process begins as quickly as possible, when the project is not yet determined, so as to be able to influence the approach of the project. The evidence shows that the sooner the partners work together, the better the results.

The impact of a peer review is really felt when the project has reached – or is just about to reach – a milestone, before starting another phase or making a final decision about an investment. For example, a peer review can be implemented when achieving specifications, tender documents, general or detailed planning. Review teams can be formed by various disciplines (tram, building, maintenance, environment, but also landscape, architecture, social work specialists), or by experts from different technical traditions (the influence of German and Dutch tram culture on a UK partner in the review process).

A second key feature is that all documentation is made available between the partners, and that exchanges are recorded, so as to keep track of the discussion. Sharing documentation and keeping tracks of technical choices are essential. This adheres to a process of transparency.

Another key feature of a successful process is that expert staff physically meet each other on a regular basis. Apart from enhancing working relations and trust by meeting in person, as opposed to just electronic exchange, peer reviews involve a routine of meetings for the short, medium, and long-term. Thus, it becomes an established procedure of the various authorities professional activities.

All of the aforementioned features are not expensive and difficult to obtain. If anything, TramStore21 shows that the practice of peer reviews is adaptable to a profession that does not always practice it and is beneficial to all.

Transnational cooperation used as a factor of quality

On a larger scale, a main problem faced by contracting authorities in Tramstore21 (transport government or transport operators, depending on the case) is that they initially may not have the right expertise relating to tram depot construction. This is generally a unique project for a medium sized European city. The first step is to contract relevant experts and contractors for each domain identified (tracks, architecture, landscape, etc.). Each segment of the construction involves the choice and coordination of experts. A lack of coordination between them may produce planning errors for the depot. As previously mentioned, a review by people with experience in having effectively built and operated a depot may spot such errors from the beginning.

The TramStore21 partners observed in the past years a series of strategic errors in depots, as wrong location choices, old design conception or insufficient consideration of external impacts. These errors are extremely difficult if not impossible to correct afterwards, and cost important sums of money every year to the tram owners and operators (as so-called ‘dead kilometres’, when trams ride empty between the depot and the network).

We suggest in this article that infrastructure owners consider raising the quality of their projects by investing in the peer review method, rather than only spending more on planning or building equipment. This should be seen as a multifaceted smart approach consisting of the right amount of expertise and investment.

The partners of TramStore21 believe that these kinds of exchanges, performed locally or with other European cities, will help them to overcome the aforementioned obstacles. Benefits include:

» Support for sectorial integration: cooperation of stakeholders from different cities and fields in a single project. There is usually strength in numbers!

» Access to an experience outside the frame of commercial agreements: circulate know-how and create contacts between staff from different cities. Note the positive results from synergy.

» Create a dynamic supporting cultural change and acceleration of an organisation’s learning cycle: prestige of an EU project allows for a review and potential change in established practices of the partners.

Challenges and advantages of the peer review process of TramStore21?

Some of the challenges include:

» New arrangements in the local authorities activities (working in a very open manner in an international setting)

» Peer reviews are an added step in the typical planning process of authority. It has however moderate time and financial cost (for example, two weeks and a few thousand Euro respectively for one review)

» Language barriers with various nationalities coming together

» Confidentiality, for commercial and tender reasons. But this is not a valid reason for not having external exchanges! Clauses of confidentiality may be negotiated and agreed by all the partners.

Some of the advantages include:

» Identify and avoid planning errors, which may have longer term costs and several disadvantages which do not directly lead to measurable costs (for example, environmental aspects, external costs, etc)

» Get improvement suggestions on one’s project from various disciplines (architects, staff members working in depots, etc) » Increased transparency leads to a perception of good governance and contributes to a corporate culture of knowledge management and innovation

» A broader view of the whole of the tram carried by sharing specific knowledge and/or particularities of each partner’s work

» In some cases, a peer review can be cheaper compared to hiring externals experts such as consultants.

Conclusion

We would like to propose that your own experiences. Are you familiar with the peer review method? Do you already practice peer reviews? If so, what methodology do you use? Do you think this technique could be useful to your working environment? Please send us details of your experience via email at [email protected] More information can also be found on our website at www.tramstore21.eu.

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