Metro Lille, London, Paris – which way to go?

Come 2022, the first line of a new automatic metro around the French capital – the Grand Paris Express – is expected to open. Overall, the whole system will boost the existing network from 200 to 400km, including four new lines and 68 stations. The investment  is estimated at €25 billion.

But who is going to run this highly coveted service. And how?

There will be two types of contracts – those for operating services on the different lines; one for managing the infrastructure. And French legislation has already awarded the latter to historic Paris operator RATP.

While this separation model is practised in heavy rail, some are questioning whether it will work in an automatic metro situation.

It raises questions over managing passenger flow in stations, safety, availability… basically who does exactly what? Will the presence of more than one actor risk conflicts of interest? Furthermore, since RATP already has a strong foot in the door, does this mean it stands a greater chance of winning the operating contracts too?

These were the concerns alluded to by Jean-Pierre Farandou, president of operator Keolis, at the end of 2016. He is keen his group, as well as other contenders, stand a fair chance in the future tender process – to be overseen by the Stif public transport authority for Ile-de-France (Paris and its region).

Longer trains, longer hours?

Transport for London (TfL) made the news in 2016 by finally launching night services on the Underground (Night Tube). Lille, however, has no immediate plans to follow suit.

“Yes, the subject has been raised,” confirms Christophe Leboucher, director, metro, tramway & engineering, Keolis. “But then there’s the problem of  finding slots for maintenance work on the tracks. Night services might be possible on Friday, Saturday and Sundays in the future, but they are not on the cards for the time being. Right now, the priority is the new rolling stock.”

With an urban population upwards of 1.1 million, Lille Métropole is the fourth largest metropolitan area in France after Paris, Lyon, and Marseille.

London calling

automatic-lille_dlr-facilityBorn in 1987, the automatic Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is still on track. Its 40km of double track, 149 trains, and 800+ staff deliver links between The City and Docklands (financial districts) and regeneration areas in east and south-east London.

A total of 380,000 passengers use the service every week day, generating 120 million trips annually.

The franchise is currently operated and maintained by the joint venture (JV) Keolis Amey Docklands (KAD), which took over from Serco in 2014.

automatic-lille_dlr-diagram“Geographically, DLR is quite compact, plus there’s a community feel about the service,” says Keven Thomas, managing director, DLR.

Note that DLR is a TfL brand. And as such, it’s not all plain sailing. Fare freezes and more development planned for this part of the city, as announced by mayor Sadiq Kahn, are presenting new challenges for KAD. Indeed if the authority is to save £650 million (€753m) over the next four years, DLR will have to pitch in.

automatic-lille_dlr-men-2“On the economic front, KAD is working smarter to avoid unecessary costs in non-value added areas, such as train washing,” said Abdellah Chajal, service delivery director, KAD. “It is also managing to increase capacity through smarter solutions, e.g. for maintenance programmes, as well as focusing on collaborative working.”

As part of its savings drive, another possibility (or maybe not, given recent strike action over the closure of  Tube ticket offices) for TfL might be to revoke its decision to have an attendant on board every DLR train – a stipulation not imposed by Lille Métropole.

It’s all about payrolls. Providing these attendants requires a team providing 19 hours of presence in three shifts.

By delivering higher commercial speeds of +10%, automatic metros can boost capacity by 10%. Furthermore, they consume 10 to 15% less energy compared to a manually driven system.

Beyond France

The U.K. lies at the heart of Keolis’ international development strategy. Indeed the group views this market as its number one target outside the Hexagon, largely on account of a governance structure it qualifies as: “sound and healthy, transparent and stable, with the desire and ability to correct shortcomings.”

automatic-lille_peterborough“In our opinion, British public transport authorities [PTA] are extremely mature and structured,” says Bernard Tabary, international executive director, Keolis. “We rate TfL as  one of the top PTAs in terms of knowledge, expertise, and funding. And yes, it demands a lot from operators. But this should be seen as an opportunity, by ourselves and others, to keep on raising standards.”

To date, Keolis already runs two light rail systems in the U.K. – the DLR and Nottingham Express Transit (NET). Most recently, this January 2017, Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) awarded KeolisAmey the 10-year contract to operate its Metrolink tram network.

The group is also part of JVs with four train operating companies (TOCs), of which the country’s largest rail franchise, the “extremely challenging” Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which carries some 2.7 million passengers a year. “We don’t have passenger responsiblity for the GTR and must accompany the evolution of the infrastructure, plus there are the unions and strike action,” explains Mr Tabary. Ongoing are efforts to bring about change to the franchise in the forms of new trains, more reliable and faster services. The goal? To transform it from a commuter rail to a metro service.

German market

One of the largest rail and transit markets in the world, Germany, like the U.K., is also open to competition. Keolis has been operating here for 15 years. Yet surprisingly, the country is less on group’s radar than the U.K.

The reason is partly down to the clout of the country’s incumbent operator Deutsche Bahn (DB), which holds around 60 to 70% of the market share; subsidiary DB Netz also manages the railway infrastructure. Hence its influence over regulations, energy, operations, and infrastructure represents a considerable force to be reckoned with. “Germany is certainly a valuable market for us, but doesn’t offer the same opportunities as the U.K.,” sums up Mr Tabary.

Leaving the EU

Opportunities that might fade since British prime minister Theresa May announced plans for a ‘hard Brexit’ this January 2017.

“No, Brexit doesn’t really bother us too much” said Mr Tabary in December 2016, pointing out that as a public transport operator, the role of Keolis is to execute, not define strategy. However he did concede that exchange rates are likely to be reflected in the group’s future accounts: “This year [2016] will suffer; we expect ridership on rail franchises to grow slower than previously anticipated.”

Another point of interest is how the U.K. will approach market openness going forward. Mr Tabary again: “Our impressions are that the government’s desire for an open market remains constant. We are certain that franchising has brought great benefits to the country and don’t expect any changes here.”

automatic-lille_busFor the bus market, the group, not yet active here, senses significant change in the air. Change it puts down to the government’s devolution drive, coupled with its desire to open up competition and so break the stronghold of big operating groups. “We will certainly explore opportunities that may arise and take them as they come, but have no plans for the moment.”

In 2016 there were 803km of automated metro in operation, comprising 55 lines  together serving 848 stations in 37 cities. Close to a quarter of the world’s metro cities have at least one line running in fully automated mode.

Source: Annual World Report, released in July 2016 by UITP’s Observatory of Automated Metros








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