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Geneva goes global

UITP – the Union International of Transports Publics. Can you see the French influence? It dates from 1885, in the days when all good international organisations used French as their official language.

Today, even the website calls it the International Association of Public Transport. But it is still UITP – “the international network for public transport authorities and operators, policy decision- makers, scientific institutes and the public transport supply and service industry. It is a platform for worldwide cooperation, business development and the sharing of know-how between its 3,400 members from 92 countries.”

Every two years, UITP organises a World Congress and Exhibition. This year was the sixtieth such event, and it was held in Geneva. For four days, 25,000 delegates attended the congress sessions while the world’s transport press were exposed to a series of press conferences from the big names of the global transport industry.

The Rail Engineer was there too, as much as to see what new technology was being shown off as anything else.

Tram Tours

The first thing to catch the eye when entering congress site alongside Geneva airport was a shiny new tram. Literally. The whole tram was decked out in a mirror finish.

However, this wasn’t a publicity stunt for a fancy new model. It is the first production tram of a batch of twenty-one for the city of Tours. Manufactured by Alstom, the Citadis trams have the distinctive mirror finish to “reflect the colours of the town and the weather.” The whole fleet will be the same.

It is certainly very distinctive. The rather square front end is also distinguished by having coloured light strips running vertically the full height of the tram – and they change colour too.

Inside, the trams were also quite novel in terms of their decoration. The vertical grab bars are forked to form the branchesDSC_4937 [online] of a large plant, with a metal ‘bud’ in between. Each bud was designed by a different artist and there are twenty-one different designs – one for each tram.

One stop shop

Inside the exhibition, Alstom focussed on its versatility and the completeness of its offering to train and metro operators worldwide. Signalling and train control, rolling stock (both with steel wheels and rubber tyres), turnkey projects – all are available and ready to go. A look at the case studies used in the literature showed the group’s diversity: signalling in Singapore, cateneryless trams in Dubai, reversible power-supply substations in Milan, unattended train operation in Lille, trams in Casablanca and traction systems in Mexico.

The two new products on show continued that trend. AXONIS is a turnkey light metro system offering quick construction and easy insertion into the existing urban infrastructure of a densely populated city. Essentially an elevated railway, it can simply be erected down the centre of existing roads and requires little demolition or movement of services.
URBALIS Fluence is the latest CBTC (communications-based train control) which gives more robust operation and headways down to 60 seconds.

Electric bus

The next stand was occupied by Bombardier. The Canadian-owned, German-based train manufacturer had a bus on its stand.

A bus? Do Bombardier make buses? The answer is no, but they do have a Primove inductive-loop electrical charging system, developed to run trams across historic market places without unsightly wires. Install them at bus stops, place some big, efficient Lithium-Iron batteries on the roof, and Hey Presto! You have an electric bus.

Bombardier’s success in this area is down to both its inductive loop technology and its innovative battery pack design. Lighter and able to charge faster than others on the market, a one-minute stop at a bus stop can put enough charge into the system to top it back up ready for the next leg of the journey. Think of it as a trolley bus without wires – clean and silent vehicles which can work around other traffic in the city.

One of the challenges has been finding a new power steering pump. Once the bus was all electric, and silent, the power steering pump was found to be noisy so a new one had to be sourced. An engineer’s work is never done.

A bus with a pantograph

That wasn’t the only electric bus on display. There were several conventional trolley buses, although no doubt with modern improvements, and even Volvo had a bus with a pantograph. Like the Bombardier one, this bus charges up at bus stops but it makes its electrical connection using a small pantograph and overhead wiring.

Other buses looked like trams. Has the tram become an iconic design? Forget bendy-buses, these had three segments and were very long indeed. Imagine what Boris would say? With sloping noses and concealed wheels, one would have to look hard to notice the lack of rails. A bus-tram. Is than a bum? Or a trus?

Virtual ticket office

DSC_4972 [online]We are getting used to electronic ticketing. Oyster cards and ITSO, bar codes, machines on stations – we have all of them. However, what do you do when you get in a tangle? Who do you talk with?

Now Cubic Transportation Systems has the answer. It is still a mechanised ticketing system, but it has a TV screen on top.

Simply push the button and a face from the call centre pops up. You can see them, and they can see you (by CCTV). So you get real one-on-one help and assistance from a real person, even if they are actually located miles away.
Work is going on to make the new system into a help-point as well, and this could be the answer to those concerned about unmanned (or unwomanned) stations at night – there will always be a friendly face the push of a button away.

Low light, no light

Talking of security, CCTV has its limitations when the lights go out. Infra-red is one solution, but criminals and vandals can see the red glow from the infra-red lights and put a brick through them.

Now Axis Communications has come up with a low-light camera that works in almost complete darkness. With no lights needed, they are great stealth cameras, watching people who don’t realise they are being watched – breaking into cars, stealing cable, terrorising passers by. What’s more, the cameras even work in colour. While not a deterrent, as not being seen is the whole idea, they should enable the authorities to catch people who don’t suspect they have been spotted.

Well done Axis. They even served coffee with a little dragon on it. Cool!


It was hard to get away from the fact that UITP was in Switzerland. There was chocolate for the delegates, and a Swiss mountain-horn ensemble in the reception area.

Oh, and have you ever wondered why Swiss trains are always on time? They have the biggest clocks!


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