First-ever tram buses around Brussels
The Flemish public transport company, De Lijn, will start using a new means of transport from the beginning of September: the tram bus, a première for Belgium. Fourteen of them, with the potential to remove up to 10.000 cars a day from the road, will then transport passengers in the northern periphery of Brussels, from the Heysel to Brussels Airport, on ‘the longest bus lane’ in the country, one of 16 kilometres long.
The tram bus, built by the Flemish bus builder Van Hool (the contract has a value of almost 12 million euro), combines the advantages of a bus with those of a tram, according to Flemish Minister of Mobility Ben Weyts (N-VA).
Just like a bus, the vehicle is flexible because it is not dependent on tracks and an overhead line, but it has the dimensions and comfort of a tram. It is 24 meters long, twice as long as an ordinary bus, and can carry 137 passengers.
Works not completed
As of September, the tram buses will be deployed in the northern fringes of the capital, initially on the existing bus line 820. After all, the bus lane will be laid out in pieces and De Lijn will not wait for the works to be completed before the tram buses can be used.
In this way, a number of important attraction and employment poles in the northern periphery will be connected, such as the UZ Jette (hospital), Brussels Expo, Medialaan, the centre of Vilvoorde, Brucargo and Brussels Airport.
Nevertheless, the project also meets with criticism. According to the Flemish newspaper, De Morgen, the construction of the track is divided into fifteen segments, for which separate permits haven been applied each time, giving you a patchwork of systems (both the timing of the delivery and the actual implementation vary from segment to segment).
In some places, for example, they use a pot of paint and a layer of asphalt to make it clear to motorists that it is a bus lane. An additional problem is that there is not a separate bus lane everywhere and that on some segments the tram bus just drives among the cars. In other words, it will take a few more years before the tram bus can cover 16 kilometres in one go.
Profit of 22 minutes
Originally, the idea was to use a tram with its own bed on the route, but in the end a tram bus was chosen because it was less expensive and can be introduced more quickly – with a tram you have to wait until the entire infrastructure (tracks, overhead wires) is ready.
Once the project has been completed – horizon 2023-2024 – the ring tram bus will be able to run on a separate bus lane of 16 kilometres from the 25-kilometre stretch. There also will be red traffic light remote control.
Thanks to these measures, the journey time should be reduced to 38 minutes, compared to about an hour now. “The tram bus will almost always be faster than the car at any time of the day”, says Weyts.
De Lijn’s top executive, Roger Kesteloot, also points out the ecological advantage of the tram buses. They are hybrid vehicles (electricity/diesel), which would enable De Lijn to save a total of 200.000 litres of diesel every year, or about 550 tons less CO2 in the air.
And they make less noise, up to a quarter. However, they are more expensive (850.000 euro per unit) than a classic hybrid bus (300.000 euro). Once the connection will be at full speed, with a tram bus every 15 minutes, the ring tram bus has the potential to take 10.000 cars a day off the road.
Stronger mobility network around airport
The first copy of the tram bus was not presented at the airport yesterday by chance. Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport, expects that the ring tram bus will strengthen the function of the airport as a hub for all kinds of transport means. He pointed out that there are some 1.000 bus journeys at the airport every day, more than the number of flight movements (600).
De Lijn and Brussels Airport also work together more intensively for a stronger mobility network around the airport. A demonstration of a self-propelled electric shuttle, which should in the long run circulate at the airport, is planned for mid-May.
The ring tram bus is the first project of the so-called Brabantnet. This includes two other tram lines in the pipeline: an ‘airport tram’ between Brussels-North and Brussels Airport, and an express tram from Willebroek, near Antwerp, to Brussels, along the A12.
These last two trams are now considerably delayed. The deadline of 2020 is no longer achievable anyway, but even a new timing is no longer given. Brussels and Flanders are apparently struggling to find an agreement on the part that lies on Brussels’ territory.