Transit Aesthetics – AutoTram / BusRail

Post by Gondola Project

Can the AutoTram revolutionize the way we think about transit planning? Image from fotogalerie.verkehrsgigant-portal.de.

When a city plan is planning a new transit infrastructure project, a lot of time is often spent deliberating over which technology should be implemented. This discussion generally floats back and for between bus and rail (and more recently, sometimes even CPT). For many cash-strapped cities looking for quick wins and cost-effective mass transit solutions, the debate often settles on the mid-tier options, namely bus (BRT) and lightrail/streetcar opportunities (HRT tends to be too expensive and time-consuming to construct.) Amongst the many debate points — capacity, aesthetics, speed, cost, etc. — proponents of both technologies claim their technology is superior.

From my personal experience (your experience may be different), based on conversations with transit planners, engineers, operators and average joes, one of the biggest arguments in favour of LRT is its aesthetics. You can go on and on about all the capabilities and characteristics of modern bus technology, but in the end, a bus is still a bus.

But what makes a bus, such a bus? Its shape? Size? Look? Smell? Other than rubber on road vs steel on rail, what if a bus could be completely remodeled and redesigned to look and feel like LRT? Would this make it as attractive as LRT, and therefore able to attract just as much new transit riders as the rail systems claim?

The Fraunhofer Institute decided to find out. In 2005 they introduced the AutoTram — essentially a road-based LRT. The makers of this technology describe it as:

“… [it] combines features of conventional buses (e.g. high flexibility, low infrastructure costs and moderate life cycle costs) with the advantages of trams like high transport capacity, driving comfort and the possibility of partial emission-free operation.”

Could the AutoTram succeed and if it does, what does this mean for the future of light rail and transit planning?

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  1. Matt the Engineer
    Oh god no. Reminds me of these, except much worse. Not that there's anything wrong with fancying up a bus. But people don't ride light rail because of their looks - they ride because of the fast acceleration, high speeds, grade separation, and level boarding stations. Or really, they ride because of the short travel times that come with these features.
  2. Interesting concept. I think if this concept gains traction, it will definitely compete. If everything is the same, including ride comfort, reliability and environmentally sustainability, but at 30-50% of LRT costs, why wouldn't a public body consider implementing it. Rail is good for high capacities seen in subways, but at mid-capacities, it seems like this well operating BRT system could do the job.
  3. It can't succeed. It has the suspension of the bus, the bad ride of the bus, the short life of the bus, the pollution of a bus, and the expense of the railcar. Dead on arrival.
  4. Did anyone bother to look at the website? Take a look at the video: http://www.autotram.info/en/videos.html Of course there's a lot of claims and there's no way of verifying any of this until a system is up and running. You may be right but it may be unwise to dismiss it so quickly. You seem to make a lot of assumptions for someone who's probably never ridden one them nor ever seen one in real life.
  5. Its interesting, particularly the total steering systems that should solve some of driving limitation of articulated bus and trolleybus. However : to reach a minimal pphpd and thus a good commerical speed - you need a dedicated ROW, with no level intersections - tram on promiscuous roads have the same average speed of bus ( 12-14 kph - from 3 to 4 m/s) and higher PPD due to bigger dimensions and passenger load. - also the low-floor design is brilliant, but limit it to road without gradients - E.G. in Rome, a metropolis built on hills some bus lines couldn't be serviced with low-floor bus due to road inclines and their geometry and are stuck with 70ies old ones. But, when you build a dedicate carriageway with over and underpasses .. the cost of tramway rail is just a fraction, and solve also the energy problem.
  6. Good points Matt, those are several features generally associated with light rail. I'm gonna pick you're brain a little: is fast acceleration, high speeds, grade separation and level boarding stations all exclusive to rail? Could some of these features be "designed" or "engineered" into an AutoTram system or BRT system?
  7. Thanks for highlighting some of its limitations GiorgioXT. I don't know the numbers off the top of my head and there may not be a specific figure for this - but what's the average % of cost of the tramway rail and vehicles when compared to the overall cost of a LRT line?
  8. Matt the Engineer
    Fast acceleration: you need electric motors for that. That said, there are modern electric trolley buses that are also trying to function as light rail. High speeds: I'm not sure I'd trust a bus past 65mph. That said, light rail doesn't usually go much faster than this anyway. Grade separation: That's the point where you lose me. Most of the cost of light rail is in grade separating the things. You may actually pay more for grade separating buses because you need a wider path and more ventilation. Level boarding: Sure. So basically, if you built a bus system just like a light rail system then it can come close to matching performance. Except at that point, you've spent more money, have less capacity, and greater maintenance because of rubber tires.
  9. Matt the Engineer
    Anywhere from very high to very low. If you're talking about true grade separation, most of the cost of the system is in this grade separation. If you're talking about rail on roads, most is in the rail and trains. I don't think the number you're looking for exists, unless you point to a specific system. Here's some data from Wikipedia, though it isn't broken out by component. "LRT systems range from $15 million per mile to over $100 million per mile. Seattle's new light rail system is by far the most expensive in the U.S. at $179 million per mile, since it includes extensive tunneling in poor soil conditions, elevated sections, and stations as deep as 180 feet (55 m) below ground level" "Calgary Transit estimates that its LRT operating costs are only 27 cents per ride, versus $1.50 per ride on its buses."
  10. Matt the Engineer
    Ah, here are some numbers for Seattle's system. $131.8M for the vehicles. With a total budget of $2.3B, that's 5.7% of the cost. Of course you have to add the cost of the rails, but you're also able to build your tunnels and bridges much more narrow with rail (since bus drivers need a buffer). I would think a bus system would add more cost than you save.
  11. Interesting numbers Matt. So in certain aspects, the actual technology - bus or rail - becomes somewhat arbitrary (perhaps skewing it towards rail since it has a longer vehicle life cycle and generally larger capacities). Rather, the type of grade separation is really the major cost defining factor.
  12. here are some actual costs for Tramway/LRT realized lines in Europe - Paris T6 Translohr line (electrical aerial-line powered carriages on pneumatic wheels with a single guiding rail) 384 millions € for 14 kms - with a 1,6 kms tunnel 28 Translohr STE6 EMU convoys = 148,5 Millions € - Rouen Tramway 15,1 kms line =18,5 millions €/km 27 Alstom Citadis 402 tram for 75 millions € - Rennes VAL Light metro - 8,56 km line , of which 1 on viaduct, 3,1 kms in a trench and 3,7 in proper tunnel - 450 millions euro line + 24 double emu 160 places. Next Rennes B line is in advanced project/start construction , >1 billion € for 12,7 kms and 48 Neoval EMU

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