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The Tram Power City Class Light Rail Vehicle (also referred to as the Citytram) is a prototype two-car articulated electric tram previously tested on the Blackpool Tramway It operates off a power supply between 550 V and 800 V DC. Blackpool at the time operated at the lower voltage of 550 V DC, whereas most modern tramways use a 750 V DC supply to provide enough power for heavy LRV typically drawing 1500 A on acceleration. The City Class tram is notable for being Blackpool's first LRV, Blackpool having had classic tramcars running since 1885 continuously to the present day. The vehicle, however, failed to complete its testing when, shortly before certification for passenger operation was to be granted, it burst into flames while returning to the depot after a full day of operations; the incident encouraged Blackpool tramway to look to other vehicle manufacturers for its new fleet. The designers Tram Power have sought to market the design and technology as a cheaper alternative to more established manufacturers.
The City Class tram began life as a research paper in 1987, which addressed the question of LRV increasing in weight and cost. Since then a systematic research and development programme has been conducted. This programme was inspired by the PCC development program of 1929–1934 which aimed to create a standardised vehicle that could out perform private automobiles which were threatening the Streetcar systems of the US. The resulting PCC, first operated on the Brooklyn system in 1935, was one of the most successful public transit vehicles, with nearly 30,000 built to the patented designs created by the Transit Research Corporation.
The City Class development programme began with computer simulations, progressed to laboratory and bench testing. A 4 tonne quarter size mock up was built in 1993. The first practical experience was got with a Slave vehicle. This was a redundant 1930s tram in Blackpool, where the original equipment at one end was replaced by the patented City Class running gear. The Slave vehicle ran for 2 years (1995–1997) in Blackpool, before it was withdrawn and the equipment checked for wear and fatigue problems. A full-size 29-metre-long prototype LRV was built in parallel, with the Slave vehicle equipment at one end and an exact copy at the other. This prototype vehicle ran until 2000, when the TRAM GROUP, which had sponsored the project, ran out of money.
In the absence of volume production to reduce costs, the City Class is based on using mass-produced components off the shelf (COTS), where there is a variety of suppliers and compatibility of equipment to offer operators a variety of options for economic long term maintenance. A more fundamental approach to reducing costs has been to address the heavy LRV problem, and design the City Class so that it has a weight per passenger nearer the long-term norm. The City Class prototype is designed for 200 passengers, with 82 seats, 2 wheelchair spaces and 120 standees at 4 per m2. It has a total unladen weight of 22 tonnes, about 110 kg per passenger. On accelerating with a full load at 1.5 m/s/s (5.4 km/h per second; 3.4 mph per second) it draws 600 A.
The 22-tonne unladen weight (38 tonne fully laden), means that the purchase cost of the vehicle can be recovered in about 10 years from power savings. From measurements completed to date, the average power consumption is under 0.9 kWh per km run. Lower current draw also means the OHL system can be lighter, substations smaller, and on existing systems, service frequency can be increased without any enhancement of the power supplies. The advanced computer control is also 95% efficient, making this one of the most advanced LRV designs today.
The 22-tonne weight also means that for new systems, structures can be lighter and therefore cheaper, making new systems and extension affordable, where today LRV is being considered in many countries as too expensive. Exercises with this modular design have a family from a 16-metre-long rigid, to a 38-metre-long double articulated vehicle, all with the same running gear making standardisation and maintenance practical. This also means that the 29-metre-long version can be stretched to 38 m without any basic modification, by replacing the 1-metre-long articulation carrier with a 10-metre-long centre section. Like the earlier PCC, TRAM Power Ltd. is willing to provide a licence agreement to any manufacturer.
The prototype was parked outside on a rail siding until 2005, when TRAM Power Ltd. was able to raise enough new money to continue the programme. During 2005 the prototype was completely stripped down at the Birkenhead Tramway Depot, and rebuilt to replace the weather damaged interior, and at the same time, to use the next generation of COTS, which had continued to develop since 1995. As an example, the original traction motors weighed 1000 kg, had a continuous power rating of 90 kW, and were 700mm in diameter. The new motors weigh 750 kg, have an output of 100 kW, and are 550 mm in diameter.
After this rebuild, it was operated 5 days a week, 8 hours per day between September and December 2005 on the Birkenhead tramway, during which its performance was monitored, and a profile of reliability established. In December 2005 it was taken to Blackpool to complete its proving testing, up to passenger carrying service. The Blackpool system being old and in places needing replacement due to want of maintenance, the prototype had to be modified to cope with the problems created by the antique infrastructure. These modifications and retesting continued until November 2006, when it was agreed that, provided trouble-free mileage was accumulated, it could enter passenger service and run until October 2007. By 24 January there was only another 2 weeks of test running left before the reliable mileage was accumulated.
24 January 2007 fire
On 24 January 2007 the City Class LRV was badly damaged by a fire on its way back to Rigby Road depot. It had run a ten-hour day normally. The entire cab section of one car was severely damaged in the fire. The driver escaped without injury and was checked for smoke inhalation at Blackpool's Royal Victoria Hospital. There were no other casualties. A passer-by called the fire brigade, which extinguished the fire.
The insurance company employed a forensic fire investigator to examine the vehicle and the British Government Railway Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) also examined the vehicle, the driver and causes of the fire.
The vehicle was taken on 21 February 2007 to a specialist heavy vehicle accident repair workshop for a full rebuild including the fitting of further smoke and heat detectors. The RAIB also required TRAM Power Ltd to prepare a full risk assessment for the City Class tram. A panel of UK tram experts met for a workshop in Blackpool, in the directors suite in the football stadium. This spent a day advising TRAM Power Ltd of the likely risks to be faced by a new tram. A full report was submitted to the RAIB in satisfaction of their requirement.
The RAIB report concluded that the fire originated in an underfloor plywood compartment which housed both 24 V and 650 V electrical equipment along with rheostatic braking resistors. No fault was found with the 650 V equipment however the condition of the wiring and equipment installation of the 24 Vsystems were "not to a standard that would be acceptable for a tram carrying passengers". No evidence was found that the driver or infrastructure contributed to the cause of the fire; the Blackpool Tramway was however heavily condemned for not having carried out a proper health and safety evaluation of the vehicle including a fire risk evaluation and for not having in place proper safety management procedures for dealing with new technology.
After the rebuilding Tram Power sought to complete its testing in Blackpool, but was unable to continue.
Tram Power local lobbying
Tram Power has set up websites and lobbying groups to push for the adoption of its vehicles and track in several locations throughout the British Isles, including the City of Galway, (pop. 85,000), where a two-line network, 21 km long is being planned. This will need 17 trams with a 200-passenger capacity.
The CROST project for central London to fill the vacuum from the withdrawal of public funds for the planned Cross River and Oxford Street tramways.
City Class contract submissions
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The City Class tram was offered by TRAM Power Ltd. to the Toronto Transit Commission of Toronto, Canada, to produce replacement rolling stock for aging CLRV vehicles in 2008. At the time, Bombardier Transportation was the only other bidder.
According to the TTC's evaluation, TRAM Power Ltd's submission was deemed not to be commercially compliant and thus failed Stage One of the evaluation, having failed to submit required documentation including a Form of Proposal and a Bid Bond. Bombardier's product was disqualified at Stage Two where the Commission decided it failed a derailment analysis.
When the TTC reopened the bidding process after both bids were disqualified, TRAM Power, who offered the City Class tram at under CAN$2.9million each, and offered to supply 100% low floor LRV's at under CAN$4.9million each, was not invited to bid again. The next year, Bombardier won the contract for 204 new trams, the first of which entered service in 2014.
A factory is currently under construction in Preston for the construction of a single tram to operate a temporary demonstration line in the city. This privately financed initiative supported by Tram Power is hoping to attract the £100m of private investment needed for a full blown park and ride tramway for the city requiring seven trams of the class.
- 1 Trams for beginners, author Lewis Lesley, 2009
- Fire on prototype tram 611 at Blackpool 24 January 2007 (PDF) (Report). Rail Accident Report. Department for Transport. November 2007. Retrieved 5 July 2013.
- https://web.archive.org/web/20111008020131/http://www.london-trams.co.uk/. Archived from the original on October 8, 2011. Retrieved July 17, 2009. Missing or empty