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Porto - Europe’s largest light rail project

Portugal’s second city is host to Europe's largest new system - and there is tramway expansion as well. By C.J. Wansbeek.

Europe’s largest entirely new light rail system is under construction at Porto. Even before the first line is opened, several further extensions are on the drawing board. In its final form the light rail scheme of Porto will probably exceed the length of 70 km (including 6 km in tunnel) now being built. When completed, the new system will carry 250 000 passengers daily. The first of a fleet of 72 Eurotrams arrived in May, and the first line will be in service next November.

The first of the Eurotram low-floor cars for the Porto light rail system soon after delivery from ADtranz at amadora in May 2001. Metro do Porto SA

The very Mediterranean city of Porto is Portugal’s second largest city. It lies on steep hills on the right bank of the Douro, a few miles from the cold, deep waters of the Atlantic. On the opposite bank of the river lies Vila Nova de Gaia, which nowadays has the same number of inhabitants as Porto, perhaps more. All around Porto, there are dozens of villages and residential areas that are fast becoming one huge urban sprawl. A mega-city in the making, spontaneously, without any master plan. The metropolitan area of Porto is made up of nine districts, with a population of 1.2 million.

A few railway lines carry commuters back and forth. Many travel by car or bus. Since the near-demise of the once extensive tramway system, urban transportation has become problematic at Porto. The entire inner city of Porto is now on the UNESCO list of World Heritage. For 2001 it is (together with Rotterdam) European City of Culture; a prestigious award. Nevertheless, motorways penetrate the city, other express ways are laid in a circle around Porto, and when it is rush-hour, the whole transport scene seems near collapse.

Interior view of the Porto Eurotram taken from an intermediate powered module. Metro do Porto SA

It is necessary to equip Porto with a high-capacity transport system, able to carry large numbers of passengers in an environmentally-friendly way. The new system must be flexible, as the inner city of Porto is full of historical buildings and narrow streets. The city of Porto wanted to offer a more efficient, attractive public transport option, in particular to attract commuters. This is how the idea was born to upgrade two CP (State Railways) narrow-gauge diesel railways (single-track over most of their length) to light rail quality. The two lines are in the form of a 'V'. Upper left on the map is Póvoa de Varzim, upper right is Trofa, and the two lines converge at Fonte do Cuco, in the northern outskirts of Porto. These two lines have a combined length of 50 km, all of which will be integrated in the light rail network.

Altogether, there are some 30 stations on these two commuter lines. Both will be completely re-modelled and modernised, and equipped with quality features, including anti-noise and anti-vibration systems. Complete renewal of the track, with regauging from 1000 mm to 1435 mm, construction of new platforms, remodelling of all station buildings, electrification and installation of telecom facilities and safety and traffic control systems.

From Fonto de Cuco, the two lines will penetrate the inner city, in an entirely new tunnel, first to reach Trindade, near São Bento railway station in central Porto. From Trindade, the tunnel line should run further to the east, to reach Campanhã, the station for main line long-distance trains. The city of Porto started with this idea, and decided it wanted light rail - affordable, flexible, easy to build, and able to carry 9 000 passengers per direction per hour.

Then things speeded up. It was decided that there should be a north-south line, crossing the river Douro, as a link between Porto and Vila Nova da Gaia on the left bank. This North-South line, in tunnel underneath central Porto, will cross the other line at Trindade. On the map, it seems an odd line, slightly lost, but the river-crossing north-south line will be of vital importance in a city where the road bridges across the river simply cannot cope with traffic demand.

map of system

Moreover, the north-south line will probably be extended further to the north, via a wide arc through the Maia suburb, and then linking up with the Trofa line at the Godim station. This still has to be formally decided. A further extension of the system may consist of a second river-crossing line, to be built at a later date. There is obviously need for much better connection between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.

At present a new road bridge across the Douro is taking shape. This will free the historic Dom Luis iron bridge for the light rail system. After crossing the river, the north-south line will dive in a tunnel deep underneath the city centre. In the past, there had been trams running over both levels of the same Dom Luis bridge, this ended when the tram line to Santo Ovidio was closed in 1959.

Blueprints for other extensions include a line from Campanhã further to the east, and a branch line to serve the airport.

STPC tram route 1E links Massarelos tram museum to Infante Dom Henrique along the bank of the river Douro. Two axle tram 143 is one of 30 Brill semi-convertible cars delivered in 1910-11 (C.J.Wansbeek

Entirely different is nature is an east-west line, also part of the Metro do Porto. The east-west line will be very urban by nature and will have tram-like features. It will start in the fast-growing middle-class neighbourhood of Matosinhos as a surface line, then make a few wide curves to serve the equally important residential area of Senhora da Hora. Near here lies Fonte do Cuco, where the east-west line will merge with the two commuter lines described above. From that point onwards going to the east, the city line will run through the east-west cross-city tunnel.

Now that light rail construction is taking place in earnest, an intense debate has flared up at Porto. The city dwellers of West Porto (Matosinhos, Senhora da Hora), who once had a tram connection with the inner city, and who have suffered from mediocre bus transport since, now feel this is their chance. They are lobbying for priority for this city line, as part of the project. In fact, they prefer a long east-west line, with short headways, in fact an urban metro. They feel that the commuters from the north should change trains at Fonte do Cuco, which should become the terminus of both commuter lines.

On the other hand, the commuters in the Varzim and Trofa corridors, who have had commuters trains at their disposal since decades, are also lobbying. They want to have their lines built first, they want double-track instead of the existing single-track, and of course they want through-going services from Varzim and Trofa all they way to Trindade in down-town Porto. Moreover, thy want light rail vehicles with far more seats than are offered by the Eurotrams currently being delivered. This debate is still going on at present, and the Government of Portugal is now intervening to bring parties together on this national prestige project.

The management of the light rail system will be ensured by a private company but financed solely public capital. This company is called Metro do Porto, SA, which is the exclusive franchisee for this public service for a period of 50 years. Sixty percent of the share capital of Metro do Porto is in the hands of the city of Porto and neighbouring municipalities. The other shares are owned by STCP, the local bus operator, and CP, the State Railways. The Metro do Porto company has a small team, dedicated to the overall strategy of the enterprise. Most other duties are subcontracted to outside consultants.

Another performer on route 1E is restored two axle tram 222 built by CCFP in 1945, but to a design dating from 1912. 221 behind in this Massarelos view is an unrestored example of the same type, operating on route 18 up the hill of Rua de Restauração to Santo Antonio (Viriato), a temporary terminus pending extension to Praça da Bathala (C.J.Wansbeek

Public tendering started in 1994. In December 1998, the EUR840 million contract was signed with Normetro - a consortium made up of Adtranz( now inherited by Bombardier Transportation), ABB, Impregilo, Soconstroi, and the Portuguese construction company Soares da Costa. The latter got the lion’s share (EUR330 million). Bombardier will build 72 Eurotrams and the signalling system (total worth EUR260 million). The contract stipulated that a total of 34 Eurotrams must have been delivered in November 2002, under the obligation of the contract. These 34 vehicles would suffice to start operation of the east-west city line, as the first phase of the light rail project.

The electric supply system will be delivered by ABB (value EUR135 million). Also involved are Semaly, the French consultants, and Transdev, the French transport operating conglomerate. The Eurotram body shells have been built at Derby, with electric equipment from Italy. The Bombardier plant at Lisbon is the assembly location. The project is a turn-key project, including operation and servicing for a period of five years.

In 2000, much energy was devoted to vehicle design. The solution aims to improve passengers access to the Eurotram, especially for the mobility-impaired, and the platform clearance was reduced, both vertically and horizontally. A construction solution for the vehicle aluminium body was established. It has previously been specified to be bolted (bolt/rivet system). However, a mixed solution was agreed upon, based on welding and bolting, with clear-cut advantages, such as increased safety, as the impact and the consequent yield of the box is distributed throughout the body structure.

Studies have been carried out to validate the solutions regarding the Eurotram's developed kinetic envelope, i.e. maximum gauge in the most extreme movement conditions. Actions were taken to define the most favourable solutions for the curved track gauge, allowing better insertion of the vehicle in a curve. There were also RAMS analyses, for Reliability, Availability, Maintainability and Safety. Much care was give to reduce the life cycle costs.

In December 2000, a revised contract was signed. The renewed contract (with the same parties) proved necessary, as unexpected problems had been encountered in previous years. How to integrate the urban planning and the light rail line? How to bring together all companies involved in this gigantic task? How to get a better insight in the subsoil of Porto, which proved far more complex than expected? How to organize practicalities such as ticket sales and tariff integration for the future light rail system?

The renewed contract now makes it possible to give a precise preview of openings:

First line to open will be the east-west city surface line, between Matosinhos and Trindade, inauguration in November 2002. The trackbed for the new tram line can already now be seen in the main streets of Matosinhos.

The second will be the underground extension of the east-west line, from Trinidade to the Campanhã railway station in East Porto, to enter service in September 2003. Boring of this tunnel segment is already taking place now.

The third phase will also take place in September 2003, with the conversion to light rail standards of both commuters lines (to Varzim and Trofa, respectively).

The fourth phase will include the integration of both the Varzim and Trofa lines over their full lengths to light rail standards, due to take place simultaneously in May 2004.

The fifth extension will also take place in May 2004, when the river-crossing line between Santo Ovideo (in Vila Nova de Gaia) and São João via Trindade will enter service.

The rolling stock will consist of 7-section Eurotrams, with a length of 34.7 m, built in the UK, Italy and Portugal. The new owner of ADtranz, Bombardier, is legally bound to deliver all 72 Eurotrams ordered by Portugal, although it is known that it is no longer active in seeking new clients for the unit. It is an open question whether Bombardier might be willing to make an exception for Porto, should it need more than the 72 Eurotrams now on order.

Porto selected the low-floor Eurotram as it offers a fast and comfortable passenger entry and exit. The vehicles possess secondary pneumatic suspension, which maintains its base systematically at access platform level, irrespective of the number of passengers on board. It also has six large doors on each side, and is bi-directional. Using a 750 V power supply, the Eurotram, with a length of 34.75 m and a width of 2.65 m, has a low integral floor, 350 mm above rail, and safety systems on entry and exit. With 80 seated places for 216 passengers, the layout allows for a density spread out uniformly along the vehicle. 24 folding seats give it versatility. Comfort is ensured by wide aisles, large window surfaces, air conditioning, destination indicators and a address system playing background music and announcing the next stop.

In summer 2001 Praça da Bathala in the old city centre saw track laying in progress to create a wide turning loop in front of the Holiday Inn hotelready for the extension of the heritage tramway service. (C.J.Wansbeek

Matosinhos in West Porto is also the terminus of the future city tram line, and a rail link between the light rail system and the city tram will probably be built there. Both networks will be standard-gauge, like the classic tramway system of Porto, now almost gone. The future city tramline will follow a west-east route, and tracks are being laid at many different locations. It will run along the wide Avenida da Boavista (once the alignment of several tram routes). The east-west city line, with an estimated length of 10 km, will have its eastern terminus at Praça da Batalha, where the turning loop is presently nearing completion. Between Praça da Batalha and the São Bento railway station, the new tram line will run over a spectacular gradient, in Rua Fernandes Tomas, where trackwork has been completed recently. But not all segments of the city tram are ready, and it seems that there even is ongoing debate on the route to be followed.

Two other city tram lines, together in the form of a '<' actually start already at Massarelos, in West Porto, on the banks of the river, where one finds the Museu do Carro Electrico (Tramway Museum). One line follows the edge of the river and has its terminus at Casa do Infante, in the city centre. This 2-km long line, most of it on single track, is now being operated as a heritage line. Another city tramline goes from Massarelos over a steep street (Rua da Restoraçao) to a square Santo Antonio, today’s stub terminus of this 1-km long line, operated as if it were the normal line 18 (in fact it is only a small portion of it, at Santo Antonia all tracks are cut off). Plans are to further extend this line into the city centre, but no decision has been taken. These three city lines may require 15 new trams, possibly Eurotrams. They will not become part of Metro do Porto, but remain with STCP, and a friendly relationship between the two Porto rail undertakings is the least one may expect in the future. The future tramway network is described as follows:
Line 1 (Blue) Matasinhos-Infante-São Bento (later São Bento-Campo 24 de Augusto-Areosa);
Line 2 (Yellow) Foz-Boavista (later Boavista-Cordoarea-Leões-Praça de República-Marques);
Line 3 (Red) Massarelos-Cordoarea-Praça da Liberdade-Bathala-Passos Manuel-Restauração (later Bathala-Guindais-Rua Chã).

The author would like to thank Senhor Nuno Ortigao, Head of Communication of Metro do Porto, for his kind assistance with the preparation of this article


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