Bombardier Presents New Catenary-Free Streetcar

22 January 2009

MSNBC reported today that Bombardier had introduced its newest technological feat: a catenary-free, contact-less tram. The system provides a clue for the next generation of rail vehicles, and suggests a future in which trams operating in city streets all over the world will no longer have to rely on overhead catenary wires and the poles that hold them up, which can be a blot on a city’s landscape.primove

Bombardier’s system, called PRIMOVE, relies on electromagnetic fields released from buried circuits placed between and beneath the tracks. When passing overhead, streetcars convert the field to electricity used to power the train; in other words, the trains receive their power without contact through inductive power. This is major achievement. The charge is only activated when the circuit is completed covered by the vehicle, which ensures that pedestrians can never come into contact with electricity.

The PRIMOVE system has the added benefit of working in conjunction with another Bombardier technology, MITRAC. This system acts much like a hybrid motor in a car and recuperates power when the train brakes.

PRIMOVE will compete with technologies from rival Alstom, whose Citadis product line has been one of the industry’s top sellers in recent years. In Bordeaux in southwestern France, Alstom equipped part of the city’s light rail line with a ground-level power supply system (called APS) through 12 km of the historic core. Along the rest of the line, the trains use less expensive catenaries for power. This system allows the train to collect power from a third rail placed between the two tracks; power is only supplied when the train is travelling directly above. Unlike Bombardier’s design, though, APS is exposed to the elements - it is a visible third rail. In Bordeaux, there have been some problems with water logging, and as a result, it would be difficult to implement such a system in an area with heavy precipitation rates.

As a result, Bombardier’s technology has a major advantage over Alstom’s, in that it can work in all weather conditions. The fact that the power supply is buried underground ensures a higher degree of reliability and little need for future maintenance. This is a promising technology for future trams and will eliminate a common argument made against LRT or streetcar systems: that their associated catenaries desecrate the landscape.

Alstom has also developed a battery-powered tram for the southern French city of Nice. The trains travel through the central’s city square, and in order to avoid disrupting the architectural unity of the space, the system’s designers wanted to get rid of the overhead catenaries in this area. Alstom, then, equiped the trains with batteries that power them for 100 or so meters across the square. This is an interesting alternative for small distances, especially since it is probably cheaper to install, though Bombardier has yet to have its system ordered and put into active use, so we’ll see.

Image above: a depiction of PRIMOVE in use, from Bombardier

Entry Filed under: ttp-lrt. .

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Norman Brown  |  23 January 2009 at 22.14

    Fortunately for the US most of our streetscape is already despoiled by overhead power wires that were buried in most of Europe long ago saving both the landscape and lots of maintenance on the circuitry. We could use catenary without any worse lines of sight.

  • 2. Zealoot  |  23 January 2009 at 22.29

    I actually like the catenary, it is part of the charm, I think it is a shame that Europe lost its public transport charm identity to modern and ugly buses and trams…

  • 3. Tahoe Valley Lines  |  26 January 2009 at 18.21

    This is a good improvement, hopefully we can use freight haul on same track.

    USA is at leading edge of energy crisis of size and scope never witnessed. IEA Nov. ‘08 report offers clue; depletion rate of existing fields is much larger than heretofore experienced. This is compounded by shelving & cancellation of many projects to expand production. Result will be shortage & inability to grow supply.

    USA MUST rehab dormant rail corridor, expand & extend existing mains. USA rail network of pre-WWII era is a model for planners. We had Mains, Branchlines, and Interurban Electric System. This must come back to actuality, providing local rail connect for victuals as well as passenger movement.

    See Association For The Study Of Peak Oil & Gas (peakoil.net) articles 374 & 1037, and also book by Christopher C. Swan, “ELECTRIC WATER” (New Society Press, 2007).

    Railway rehab should have top billing on
    ]economic reconstruction agenda; certainly rehab of dormanrt rail branclines are labor-intensive and shovel-ready! In fact, these branclines are critical to pick up load as trucking falters in energy crisis.

  • 4. timberpalace  |  27 January 2009 at 22.41

    I kind of find cantenaries charming too.

    In Oregon we just started a streetcar company to make the local Portland streetcars. Everyone was pretty stoked about it because with streetcars gaining in popularity, federal rules with a preference for American manufacturers and a lack of any real streetcar competition, we thought all that money would be rolling into the beaver state.

    Those bastards at Bombardier and their better product!

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