What if freight took the tram?

| 12 June 2017

Why not use the tram to carry merchandise into the city? This simple question begs an obvious answer, especially when the lines already exist and the rolling stock can be easily adapted for the task.

The issue was raised by Efficacity, the Institute for Urban Energy Transition, working with the Saint-Etienne metropolitan area and our teams.

The project has progressed through many stages and will soon enter the experimentation phase. This involved obtaining an old tram car from the Saint-Etienne tram system, making the necessary transformations – removing seats, stripping the interior fittings, installing a system for fast loading/unloading of packages – and plotting the entire logistics chain. The main constraint is not to hinder the movement of the frequent passenger trams (during the day, the trams run at a frequency of 6 minutes in Saint-Etienne).

The tests and simulations showed that passenger traffic and tram-freight traffic could coexist without difficulty. The project has proven its pertinence in a context marked by the increased transport of goods in the city and a need to reduce emissions for the sake of the environment. One day, trucks will no longer be allowed in city centres and so the tram-freight solution offers an alternative. Other European cities are already moving in this direction: in Dresden, for example, Volkswagen is suing trams between its logistics warehouse and an assembly line in the city centre. In Zurich, trams carry bulky and electronic waste to be recycled.

In Saint-Etienne, the grocery chain Casino is watching the experiment with great interest: the tram would make it possible to supply some 15 stores along the tram lines with greater regularity, be it winter or summer, than with delivery trucks. The public hospital administration, with sites scattered in the north and south of the city, also sees an opportunity: the tram could be used to transport hospital meals from a central kitchen to patients across all sites.

The first tram is ready for three weeks of real-life tests delivering goods to two Casino stores. This easy and reliable solution has set the stage for a second generation of tram-freight with more sophisticated technology, particularly to increase automation. But it won’t happen overnight. Though the Saint-Etienne authorities are very active on the urban logistics front, they must be mindful of the Latin adage, “festina lente”: make haste slowly…