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Torino defines new role for tramway system

By C. J. Wansbeek

Built mainly on the west bank of the river Po, the city of Torino (Turin) occupies a strategic position. One hour to the north are the skiing slopes of the Alps. One hour to the south are the beaches of the Mediterranean.

Partially low-floor 5000-series trams will move from route 4 as Cityways enter service. (C.J.Wansbeek

Torino is the capital of Piemonte province, since 1861 it the first capital of a unified Italy. Much of its 17th- and 18th-Century look remains. The city is well laid out, with wide streets, historic squares, churches, and parks. The rectilinear layout can be traced back to Roman times. Torino is thriving, and its prosperity has long been based on the presence of the Fiat automobile, based here.

The first horse tramway was opened in 1871 and electrification commenced in 1898. The municipality became involved in tramway operation in 1907 and acquired complete control of the network in 1923.

Trams remain important, and all over the city one sees tram tracks in full use. After the May 2001 closure of tram route 1, a total of eight tram routes remain in service. In the 1950s there had been scores of tramlines. The 1960s saw considerable abandonment in favour of buses. Even then it was realised that something better than buses would be required if environmental criteria were to be met, as was reported by this magazine in November 1979. A plan to build a heavy metro underground dating from 1970 had fallen through as a metro proved not to be affordable for this city with a population of 1 million.

After that, planners came forward with the idea of doubling existing railway tracks, but it was soon found that railways could not serve the city's entire needs. In 1978 the new policy adopted was to build an advanced tramway system, christened 'light metro', to be organised on a grid basis in the main streets of the city. In the centre of Torino, parts of the light rail system would be in cut-and-cover tunnels, mainly beneath narrow streets. In the first instance there would be two super tram lines, in German Stadtbahn-style, apart from the classic tramlines, most of which were to be preserved. These plans was described by J.G. Hamilton and J.H. Price in this magazine, issue of June 1983.

The 7000-series double ended LRVs are used on route 3 with stub terminal (C.J.Wansbeek

As Barry Cross described in his survey published Light Rail and Modern Tramway for February/March 1995/6, politics changed in Torino and in 1991 the metro re-emerged as plans for a VAL automated system using the French technology. However the city was unsuccessful in persuading the government in Roma to allocate funds for this project, which had to be dropped, although remaining a city aspiration. Work to improve the tramway system continued, with lengthy periods of closure on routes as infrastructure work to create more segregated track took place.

After years of uncertainty, there is now a crystal-clear planning, and Torino is working hard to make this a reality. In recent years, a full integration of fares in the entire Piemonte region has been reached, based on fare zones, in close co-operation between interurban bus operators, FS (State railways) and ATM, the transport undertaking of Torino. Now a second step can be set, that of integration of services as well as technical integration.

Click map for larger image

Torino will be served by a hierarchy of transport systems. In the first place the FS lines. On the second level the VAL, or automatic mini-metro, finally authorised in 2000, and now under construction. Next comes the super tram line system, of which the upgraded and extended tram line 4 will be the first example. Next come the classic tramlines, finally the city buses. Trains, metro, trams and buses are henceforth organised as one coherent system. When talking with ATM managers, one senses a feeling of relief and satisfaction: Torino is now getting what it wants.

The railway system is already full-fledged, and there will be new lines and new stations. This will bring the number of Torino railway stations to seven: Porta Nova, Porta Susa, Lingotto, Stura, Rebaudengo, Dora, Zapata. Within a few years, an underground four-track main railway line will be built, linking all seven stations, with Porta Susa as the future main station, instead of Porta Nuova. This rail line will be known as Passante, and it will be modelled after the similar line at Milano, also known as Passante. Torino too will use it the airport rail link. Within 10 years, airlines, railways, VAL and tram lines will be a coherent, mutually reinforcing transport system.

The VAL line is called Metropolitana Automatica di Torino. It has been designed to become the backbone of public transport in Torino, in tunnel over its full length. In December 2000 construction started of the first segment, from the city centre (Porta Nuova railway station) to the west (to Collegno), a length of 9.6 km, with 15 stations. This will be extended with a second leg, going north-south (from Porta Nuova to Lingotto). The second segment will have length of 4.5 km and 7 stations. So the VAL line will be in the form of a reversed 'L', with a total length of 14 km and 22 underground stations. During rush hours, there will be a VAL train every two minutes in each direction.

Workmen put the finishing touches to the interior of the 100% low-floor Cityway. (C.J.Wansbeek

The VAL line will help shape the city of the future, in particular the southern terminus at Lingotto will play a key role. At Lingotto, there is a ever-growing Expo City, and the VAL line will bring a fast link with the city centre. It is probable that the VAL line will be extended further to the west, to a point near the Tangenziale, the semi-circular motor way around Torino. At that point, a huge P&R facility will be created, an ideal interchange for commuters arriving by car. Vaguer are the plans to extend the VAL line further to the south. It is obvious that there will be a single, through-going VAL line; a second line is not seen on the drawing boards.

The rebodied six-axle articulated trams of the 2800-series have their origins in Peter Witt cars of the 1930s. (M. R. Taplin

Over the VAL line, 46 sets will run in coupled sets of two, each set consisting of two 13 m long VAL208 cars, which brings the length of each train to 52 m. Each train can carry up to 440 passengers. The EUR 80 million order will be fulfilled in Graz and Wien. Commercial speed will be 32 km/h, so the line can be covered over its full length in 24 minutes.

The preference of Torino for a VAL system is explained by ATM management in the following terms. Torino wanted to create an utterly reliable underground line, with extremely short head ways, able to carry up to 20 000 passengers per direction per hour, without any interruption. It is felt that the automatic operation of the VAL can offer this quality. All trains will be unmanned. Secondly, the new line should be based on existing, proven technology, and in particular the Siemens-MATRA built VAL lines at Lille and Toulouse proved convincing in the eyes of the Torino authorities.

The first Alstom Cityway in the depot in July 2001 prior to its entry into service on route 4. (C.J.Wansbeek

The 1998-inaugurated full-automatic Paris metro line 14, known as METEOR, using similar automation technology, is also referred to by ATM managers as a strong reference case for the VAL system. They note that world-wide there are 120 km of full automatic metro lines in service, and they perform well, since the inauguration of the first VAL line in Lille, in 1983. Torino also wanted trains with optimum adherence (by means of rubber-tyred wheels), lowest breaking distances and a reduction in noise and vibrations. Additional consideration were the willingness to buy something really new and innovative. Moreover, the new system should be totally safe. All these criteria are met by VAL, it is believed.

So the VAL is built as a line with a high transportation value, with high-frequency service. Corridors and stations have been designed with the aim of rationalising and minimising passages in the inside and exit corridors. All stations will have automatic sliding doors on the platform to avoid accidents. There will be video surveillance as well as constant monitoring by the Control and Command Post.

The east-west leg of the VAL line will be inaugurated in November 2005, in time for the winter Olympic Games of February 2006, which will be hosted by Torino. Everyone is confident that the deadline can be met; behind the VAL construction stands a consortium made up of Geodata of Torino and Systra, the engineering and consultancy agency of RATP, the public transport of Paris. Of course, Siemens-MATRA will do its utmost best to make the Torino VAL a success. Among the participants in the consortium one also finds FIAT engineering. According to Dr. Gian Piero Aliverti, Commercial Director of ATM, there can be no doubt that the VAL project will be concluded in time.

With a clearly-defined role for the VAL, it is much easier to understand what the tramway system will be like. The city council of Torino has formally declared that the tramway system must be preserved, upgraded and extended. It also said that the new trams must be comfortable and fast. The politicians admit that trams cost more than buses, but this price will be paid, given the overall superiority of trams in comparison with buses.

Torino tram routes
3Le Vallette-Piazza Repubblica-Piazza Hermada
4Ospedale G. Bosco-Piazza Repubblica-Mirafiori-Sud
9Piazza Stampalia-Stazione Porta Nuova-Esposizioni
10Via Massari-Stazione Dora-Stazione Porta Susa-Corso Tazzoli
13Piazza Campanella-Stazione Porta Susa-Piazza Gran Madre di Dio
15Via Brissogne-Piazza Castello-Sassi
16Piazza Sabotino-Piazza Vittorio Veneto-Piazza Repubblica-Piazza Sabotino
18Piazza Sofia-Piazza Repubblica-Piazza Carducci-Fiat Mirafiori

On 21 May 2001, tramline 1 was withdrawn, to make way for VAL construction. Eight tram routes survive (3, 4, 9, 10, 13, 15, 16, 18). All eight lines will remain in service, there are no further closure plans, according to Dr. Gian Piero Aliverti, Commercial Director of ATM. There is an infrastructure of 180 km of tram tracks, all standard-gauge double track. This should grow to reach a final length of 195 km. This means an additional 15 km, of which some 10 km will be extensions of tram route 4, the remainder to extend route 18 at both extremities.

Put otherwise, there is a positive balance between closures (such as that of line 1) and new extensions being prepared and built. Plans are subject to constant revisions, and several extensions will not be built, contrary to earlier announcements. Among the scrapped plans is the extension of route 13 from Piazza Campanella to Via Passoni. On the other hand, the extension of line 4 will probably be much longer than originally expected.

The new face of the tramway system will consist of the extremely attractive 7-section low-floor Cityway, built by Alstom. Originally, it had been developed by FIAT Ferroviaria, which then sold out to the French-based international company. The first six Cityways will be single-ended. All others will be double-ended. The first vehicle was delivered in March 2001, and starting September 2001 the Cityway was in regular service on route 4.

Alstom Cityway for Torino
Length34 m
Width2.4 m
Height3.3 m
Floor height320 mm
Number of bogies4
Bogie wheelbase1.75 m
Bogie centre separation8.58 m
Wheel diameter680 mm
Passenger seated40
Standees (4/m2)157
Weight38.7 t
Motors12 x 62 kW
Max speed70 km/h

On order are 55 Cityways, all of which are expected to arrive before the end of 2002. There is an option for a repeat order for 45 additional Cityways, and no one doubts these will be ordered soon. The aim set by ATM is to have a fleet of 187 low-floor trams running in 2004. This implies a further order of 87 units, for which, of course, Cityway should be considered as a serious candidate, but no decision on the additional 87 trams has been taken so far.

40 Cityways will be allotted to route 4, the remaining five will run elsewhere. All new trams can run over the entire network, there are no technical impediments. This line will be upgraded to light rail standards, running north-south, entirely on reservation, with attractive stations. Even in the city centre, route 4 will be on reservation. At present it has a length of 10.5 km, and commercial speed is 14 km/h. In stages it will be extended to reach a length of 17.8 km. The commercial speed will be increased to 18 km/h. There will be a tram in each direction every five minutes.

At its southern end, the 4 has now been extended by 1.8 km over Corso Unione Sovietica, from Piazzale Caio Mario to Strada del Drosso. Beyond that point, a further 700 m extension will probably follow soon, to reach the area bordering on the River Sangone, where there will be a P&R facility. At its northern end, the 4 will be extended to a future P&R facility near the Torino-to-Milano motor way, and from there further north to the arrondissment (borough) of Falchera. Included is a 700-m long subway section. From Gottardo, the current terminus of line 4, to Falchera will be a distance of 4.5 km new tramline.

ATM at present is not all-too-happy with its 51 7000-class 6-axle LRVs bought in the 1980s. These heavy cars were built for upgraded tramlines which were never built to any significant extent, after the public reaction to the Vallette extension. In a city with short distances between tram stops (500 m on average) and traffic light at every street corner, more flexibility is required of trams than the 7000-series can bring. Currently the 7000-series in use on routes 3 and 9.

The second part of the original order was converted into one for 54 60% low-floor cars of tramcar appearance and dimensions. 5501-54 were delivered in 1988/9. These can be seen on routes 4 and 10. Alongside them on routes 13, 15, and 18 are the rebodied (1980s) high-floor six-axle trams of the 1960s, 2801-2903, now showing their age. The last 3000-series bogie trams of the 1950s (also rebodied) are on circular route 16, but also can still be used on Fiat works services.

A Torino délicatesse is the electric rack tramway from the suburb of Sassi to the basilica at Superga. From Superga, high in the hills facing the city across the river Po, there is a splendid panorama of Torino, against a backdrop of snow-capped Alps. This line is also operated by ATM and reopened in September 2001, after an extensive renewal operation which cost ITL 23 billion. The 1934-built cars ride again. Probably one set consisting of one motor car plus two trailers can cope with all traffic on this peculiar line.

A further transport improvement came in April 2001 when an airport rail link was opened between Torino's Caselle airport and the Dora railway station of Torino. Within a few years, this line will be further extended to reach the main railway station at Porta Nuova.

The author would like to thank Dr. Gian Piero Aliverti, Commercial Director of ATM, for his kind assistance with the preparation of this article.

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