French tram renaissance


Mulhouse trams June 2007, Video Dave Spencer, PMP Transport Films

(trailer for PMP DVD 1512 –

SPIEGEL ONLINE has just published a very positive assessment of the tram revival that is taking place in France. Here is just a taster.

Trams are enjoying a comeback in France. From Nantes to Marseille, city planners are building new, high-tech streetcar lines as central elements in urban redevelopment. And they haven’t forgotten any of the French flair the world has come to love.

It’s bright yellow with black stripes—like some kind of futuristic tiger on rails—and it runs through Mulhouse at eight-minute intervals like a streak of light. This city in France’s Alsace region was once a leader in the industrial revolution, but it is now visibly struggling with structural change. The new tram system has brought it fresh pride and and a new sense of self-confidence.

To make way for the new network, which will connect five neighbouring municipalities, streets, pavements and bike paths had to be thoroughly overhauled. Now trees have been planted, and the strips of land on which the tracks run have been given fresh green turf. When the city was awarding contracts for the two tramlines, they went looking for artistic flair—on the rails themselves, though, rather than in the stations.”Residents had a say in all the projects,” says Deputy Mayor, Samuel-Weis. “They helped decide on the shape of the trams’ driver cabins and voted on color choices. The project was popular even before the first tram left the station.”

Its launch has been a tremendous success in the city. Many residents now consider riding the tram cool and comfortable. “It’s punctual, practical and safe,” a young mother says, extolling the new system’s virtues. Citing examples like station platforms that come up to the height of the tram doors, she says that it’s great for people with children. “Got a baby carriage?” the mother asks. “No problem! It’s not like the nightmare at bus stops and subway stations.”

The French are hoping the renaissance of the tram will serve as an antidote to traffic jams and gridlock—and not just in Mulhouse. In almost two dozen French cities, trams have become the hallmark of urban transformation. Nantes and Grenoble were the first cities to bring back what many had long considered to be an outmoded form of transportation. Since then, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Marseille and even the southern part of Paris have also welcomed back urban rail lines. Lille and Lyon are looking into the idea; Caen, Brest, Nancy, and Toulon are in the planning stages. Throughout France, the network of tracks is set to grow to 576 kilometers (358 miles) by 2015.

Click here for the complete SPIGIEL ONLINE article. Highly recommended!

Note that trams have been reintroduced in almost two dozen French cities! In the UK, the Government has throttled back demand for tram systems from cities like Bristol, Leeds and Portsmouth and there are only half a dozen tram systems operating in the UK.

Current UK tram systems (by date of opening)

  1. Blackpool (1885) 11 miles (18km)
  2. Manchester Metrolink (1992) 23 miles (37 km)
  3. Sheffield Supertram (1994) 18 miles (29 km)
  4. Midland Metro (1999) 13 miles (20 km)
  5. Croydon Tramlink (2000) 18.5 miles (30 km)
  6. Nottingham Express Transit (2004) 9 miles (14 km)

Total 92.5 miles (149 km)


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