Paris, April 27:A bus-inspired-by-a-tram and systems designed to boost the IQ of transport took centre stage at Alstom's press conference today.
"Our vision of 'smart mobility' goes beyond digital tech to better integration of rail into urban mobility," said CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge.
Rather than reinventing the wheel, Alstom's take on 'smart mobility' is very much a question of improving the existing.
Solutions range from the 100% electric Aptis bus and self-driving shuttles to real-time metro maps, train carriage occupancy info., and predictive maintenance for rolling stock. All-in-all, a portfolio due to be further showcased at UITP's upcoming Global Public Transport Summit (GPTS) in Montréal.
First and foremost, Aptis. Twelve metres long with capacity for 100 passengers, the current prototype is low floor, feels more about standing room than seated, has deep bay windows and 'lounge-style' seating at the back. Charging can be ‘opportunity’ – at night in the depot, or rapidly at the end of each line during daily operations – or ‘fast’, either via inverted pantograph or Alstom’s SRS ground charging system.
Electric bus or tram? I asked Dr Harry Hondius (expert in the field) the obvious, confident he would (as always) say it like it is. "Can you see any rails? It's a bus, a bus I tell you!" he told me. That's that sorted then.
Worth noting, the axles are located at the extremities of the vehicle (giving it crab-like allure) to deliver a smoother ride and reduce the draw-in radius required for drivers to dock at stops – "which is, for example, typically around 15 metres in Paris," pointed out Mr Poupart-Lafarge. "Aptis is designed to considerably reduce, if not eliminate these metres altogether.”
Refusing to be drawn on the purchasing price, he focused instead on its purported range of 200km, low maintenance and operating costs. According to a press release, '[the vehicle has] total cost of ownership equivalent to current diesel buses.
Developed by Alstom and its Alsace-based subsidiary NTL, Aptis is due to be tested in Paris and its region in the coming months.
'Ville de Paris, transport authority the Stif, and operator RATP are currently working out the details of an ambitious programme baptised Grand Paris des Bus. Likely to be put into action from end-2018, early-2019, this highly complex plan seeks to restructure and upgrade the network serving the city and its surroundings'.
Bridging that gap
Having acquired undisclosed shares in self-driving shuttle start-up EasyMile (see photo below), Alstom is clearly seeking to boost its chances when bidding for higher capacity public transport tenders (rail, metro, tram, bus) in years to come.
Offering these autonomous vehicles (AVs) (software developed by EasyMile, vehicles built by manufacturer Ligier), as a first/last mile 'add-on' to its system offers is probably a good move for Alstom. As part of the drive to encourage multi-modal travel, public transport operators and authorities (often cash strapped) are increasingly seeking ways and means, such as bike and ride sharing, or better buses, to efficiently fill crucial journey gap; to avoid the need for cars.
'Last week, New York City Council passed a bill that requires the NYC Department of Transportation to study and propose solutions to subway deserts — neighborhoods with poor access to a system whose average weekday ridership is more than five million'.
Source: nextcity.org – 1 May 2017 – ‘New York City Council Wants to Find a Cure for Transit Deserts’, by Josh Cohen.
‘Autonomous vehicles: a potential game changer for urban mobility’, a paper released in January 2017 by UITP, details the challenges ahead and outlines a way forward for introducing AVs to cities.
From building trains making mobility happen... better
Paris, April 27: A bus-inspired-by-a-tram and systems designed to boost the IQ of transport took centre stage at Alstom's press conference today.
- Optimet OrbanMap, an intelligent metro map that passengers can consult in stations. Developed by Metrolab (Alstom's 2011 joint venture with public transport operator RATP), it provides real-time traffic and city information (via social media).
- Linked to OrbanMap and also developed by Metrolab, the Optimet real-time train occupancy system is designed to enhance passenger flow and reduce crowding on trains. "It should enable time savings of around 10 to 15% during boarding and alighting," said Mr Poupart-Lafarge.
- Alstom's acquisition of Nomad Digital has given it a strong foothold in the fields of passenger Wi-Fi, infotainment, driver assistance, and remote condition monitoring systems for the rail.
- HealthHub – a predictive maintenance system for trains, signalling, and infrastructure.
- To boost management of multimodal operations, the Mastria control system brings together the different transport systems serving a city (bus, metro, train, tram). Algorithms are used to anticipate increases in passenger demand (weather, big public events) and so allow operators to deploy fleets in consequence = smarter capacity and energy use.
Future forward – power of partnerships
When it comes to innovation, Alstom is clearly not seeking to reinvent the wheel from A to Z. Nor does it intend to do anything new all by itself. Instead the company strategy appears to be based in large part on channelling its existing expertise into new fields. Forging partnerships with tech firms and other outfits doing things it can't, or doing them better, is also part of the plan.
Alstom owns undisclosed shared in EasyMile with two objectives in mind – to include AVs in its system offers and, at a later date, integrate the technology into Aptis.
A recent development, this April Alstom signed a cooperation agreement with Airbus to exchange knowledge on cybersecurity.
"We are proud to cooperate with Airbus, the world leader in aviation, on this programme, which will provide operators with innovative and efficient cybersecurity solutions for safer transport," said Pascal Cléré, senior VP of Alstom's Digital Mobility division.
"This cooperation is fully in line with our ambition to be the precursor of the field of railway cybersecurity."
The autonomy of intercity trains and leadership of the market come 2020 are also in its sights. On this topic, Mr Poupart-Lafarge was keen to point out how the benefits of this technology will go beyond cost savings on drivers. “It will enable greater flexibility of fleets with regards infrastructure and factors external to the trains.”
On the hot topic of consolidation, Alstom's number one remained elusive: "We are in a good position to benefit from developments over the past five years."
He doesn't see hyperloop technology (French Railways/SNCF has invested in it) and flying vehicles (as in Dubai) as direct competitors to rail; but doesn't dismiss them altogether either. Indeed, the message is clear – “if integration opportunities arise from these technologies in the years to come, Alstom is interested.”
Alstom at the GPTS Montréal – Stand N°: 2K104
Photo sources: Alstom and Passion4Transport