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Presented by Alex Naef, CEO of Hess AG. is this image of the first Swisstrolley4 as being built for Limoges, and featuring a new, tram-like front.   Hess AG.

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The 3rd International Trolleybus Conference - Leipzig, 2012

2012 Trolleybus Conference

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updated 7/7/12

The Third International Trolleybus Conference, organized by trolley:motion, in conjunction with the EU Trolley project and UITP, was held at the huge glass and metal edifice of the Leipzig Conference Centre at the end of October 2012.

Smaller than the first such event held in Zurich four years ago, the conference nonetheless had industrial exhibitors such as Hess, Solaris, ZF transmissions (showing an electric two motor drop axle), Vossloh Kiepe and, confined to small metre wide stand, a rich variety of overhead fittings by Esko of the Czech Republic.

183 delegates registered and nearly all attended - a notable absentee was Gunter Mackinger who was unable to come. Delegates came from industry, operator companies, consultancies and academia and from far and wide -Des Laughton responsible for Wellingtons overhead was there and so was Jorge Vergara, from Paraguay, looking for help installing a trolleybus BRT.

With no trolleybuses, Leipzig seemed an odd choice of venue, and meant no trolleys to view, but the city has been working towards installing a system for a number of years. Despite a setback two years ago when trolleybuses were planned to use tram infrastructure, the emphasis is now on converting a single diesel route and part of tram route 9 using technology to only part wire the corridor. Mentioned was the Siemens e-BRT concept, the inheritor of the Optiguide system, and includes the possibility of trolleybus overhead but aims at 20 second energy storage recharging. This move to reduce trolleybus overhead and the systems necessary to enable it became a theme of the conference. In contrast, there were also presentations from East European operators that concentrated on maintaining fully wired systems.

The increasingly bewildering choices facing potential operators was neatly summarised by Luc Tremblay, technical director of STM Montreal. Committed to 100% zero emissions by 2026, the plan is to use electric buses only, but options exist that should be tried. In 2013 trials will made of opportunity charging battery buses, followed by induction charging trials of midi-buses in 2014. By then only series hybrid buses will be bought. 100 trolleybuses will be installed between 2016 and 2017 and, in part, take advantage of any knowledge acquired in the battery trials. Trolleybuses are seen by Société de Transport de Montreal as a new/old technology that is greenhouse gas free, comfortable and reliable, and can use hydro and wind generation from within the province. Overhead is seen as necessary, as battery technology is not capable of replacing a direct power supply that can provide for 500km a day per vehicle, although depots need not be wired and the overhead can provide opportunity charging for battery APUs and some off-wire operation. Trams are regarded as too expensive. The power supply sub system is seen as necessary anyway, should battery technology improve beyond the 2020s.

Dave Haskins of Leeds Metro presented a fully fledged trolleybus system that was funded and is now in detailed planning stages. Half of the budget is for buying land and civil works, while only €15m is necessary for the trolleybus infrastructure. No reliance will be made of battery technology although battery APUs could obviate the need for short turning loop wiring or fully implemented depot wiring. Much now depended on creating full public acceptance of the system. Trolleybuses are regarded as tram-like, with high reliability and half the cost. Some areas of the northern section are environmentally sensitive, with careful system design necessary to overcome local opposition to any green space acquisition by the trolley-way. The UK transport minister decides on final go ahead at the end of 2013 and tendering for equipment takes place during 2014-15. The system is planned to open at the same time as Montreal, in 2017-18.

Hans Bareiss of VBZ Zurich talked of the great success of their 29 bi-articulated trolleybuses that are used on roads as narrow as 6m. Zurich aims at a 15% reduction greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and thus intends to invest 50million CH to convert two diesel bus routes. Overhead installation is seen as beneficial to clients as an aid to finding routes and an indication of commitment to electric traction as a way to enhance life quality. 7 of their latest trolleybuses were equipped with roof mounted Vossloh Lithium Iron Phosphate battery packs providing a range of >10km but having a scheduled use of 1.5km.

Roberto Berkes from EMTU Sao Paulo reviewed plans and progress with trolleybuses in one of the world's largest cities. Between 70 and 230 new trolleybuses are envisioned to replace diesels and reduce air pollution at a cost of €34million. This incentive to local industry would see an additional 11km of route in 2013 and another 12km thereafter.

A 15% reduction in trolleybus electrical consumption was quoted by Conrad Troullier of Stradtwerke Solingen, achieved by installing supercapacitors. All new generation trolleybuses, due from 2016 onwards, will have them. They further improved the operating efficiency of trolleybuses that make up 65% of the bus network, by easing control, arcing and overload problems on the overhead supply. Trolleybuses are regarded as 50% more efficient than diesels, have low maintenance costs, are quiet, clean, flexible and have very high public acceptance.

Similar experiences were quoted by Mickaél Pandion of SVE Esslingen, although, at €1million per km to install, overhead is too expensive to install everywhere. Plans are to be implemented where overhead is not installed for downhill route sections, relying on battery APUs and gravity for motion and resulting in a 20% increase in route length for the same cost.

As with Solingen and Esslingen, Eberswalde too had achieved worthwhile energy savings with supercapacitors installed. The concept of supercap/battery/trolley hybrid operation, with a prototype built by Solaris/Ceglec, is being trialed as a prelude to a wireless 5km third route that would use existing overhead to sufficiently recharge in 20 minutes. The battery APU weighs the same as a diesel equivalent and has a range of 18-28km. Thought is also being given to supercapacitors at sub stations.

There were presentations from manufacturers still keen to promote CNG, fuel cells and battery buses, but audience discussion exposed the shortcomings that, with the exception of hybrids, had not resulted in any widespread uptake. Primove again presented their inductive charging system but couldn't convincingly answer questions about efficiency losses. Volvo advocated charging at the ends and centre of routes for 6 minute periods to give a range of 10 to 20km but this wasn't seen as comparable with a trolleybus system able to carry 9,000 passengers an hour for 20 hours a day. Vossloh Keipe presented their battery APU with a 5 year life equal to 3,000 complete charge discharge cycles. According to a consultant from Parma, the Roma Solaris Trollino battery units were lasting 4 years at a cost of €100,000 each and had already been replaced throughout the fleet at least once, but the operator had not publically stated the position or who was bearing the cost. Hess, whose 18m hybrid buses were seen running in Leipzig city centre, showed an image their fourth generation Swisstrolley with a tram-like front, as ordered for Limoges and currently under construction.

Supercap units were advocated for off-wire running; current units have a capacity of .5kw/hr, sufficient for only 200-500m, and cost €30,000. It's thought that the 30wh/kg power/weight ratio is likely to improve. A presentation by Sven Klausner of the Fraunhofer IVI Transport institute proposed a route system of 10km, using 12m battery/supercap vehicles that slow recharged 25-30kwh batteries at 200kw for 5 minutes at the terminii and fast charged 2kwh supercaps capable of powering the bus for 1km, with the availability of 800kw for 15 seconds at alternate stops. He foresaw a need for battery technology improvements that might occur during the next decade to enhance operational life times(!) and agreed trolleybuses were the only currently viable option for full service 100% electric buses. He also mentioned the 30m 256 passenger 5 axle bi-articulated prototype hybrid developed by his institute and launched recently in Dresden as the AutoTram Extra Grand, built by Gröppel.

Technical sessions detailed supercap energy savings, efficiency improvements and the economics of diesel to trolley conversion both of vehicles and routes.
The conference mirrored the perceptual need to move toward wireless 100% electric buses but couldn't provide indisputable technological solutions. As Daniel Steiner, CEO of Kummler + Matter, the overhead manufacturer, said, 'I don't think I've learnt anything fundamentally new'. He is developing, somewhat reticently, a system of electronic guided re-poling for trolleybooms and accepts that the days of 'special work' are numbered, especially for new systems, but that the trolleybus remains essential for those serious about pollution free urban transport.

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More details of worldwide Tbus developments are here

updated 25/10/12
By Ashley Bruce