Bordeaux: City of Wine and… (No) Wires?

August 25th, 2014

Known to most Americans for its famous wine varieties, Bordeaux is also an innovator in surface transit technologies that allow for wireless tram operations on its downtown streets.

Two wireless trams serve paired center city station platforms

Two wireless trams serve paired center city station platforms

On a visit to Bordeaux in 2010, I drank its fabulous wines, walked along the Garonne, enjoyed its comfortable summer climate… and took note of its innovative trams (light rail/streetcar).  You might be thinking “trams… really?”  Yes!  While most systems are powered by overhead wires, when it opened in 2003 Bordeaux’s system was the only modern example of ground level powered wireless trams in the world.  The proprietary APS system allows for typical overhead wire operation in the areas outside the central city and operation with ground-level power (see photo below) inside it in order to preserve unobstructed views in the old city.  Although the system initially had reliability problems, it now seems to be performing well.

On my stay I noticed that the trams operate in dedicated lanes, some of which encompass nearly the entire street (see 1st photo).  This allows for the trams to move about free from interference from cars, but has a side benefit of creating streets largely free from vehicles and safe for pedestrians when the trams aren’t present.  This provides both a terrific walking environment and lets transit operate more effectively.  Perhaps there are some lessons we can learn from Bordeaux and implement here.

A tram transitions between overhead and ground-level power as it enters the central city

A tram transitions from overhead to ground-level power as it enters the central city

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  1. NS
    September 3rd, 2014 at 20:20 | #1

    DC Transit streetcars did the same thing 50+ years ago: an in-ground conduit in downtown DC, and overhead wires elsewhere. Not a new invention.

    • Jonathan
      September 8th, 2014 at 11:36 | #2

      You are correct, however Bordeaux’s was the first modern tram system to do this and I believe the specific APC technology that Alstom developed has not been used before.

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