The Zaragoza Tramway system

For any surface transport project across the globe, size is a significant factor, from both a capital expenditure and return-on-investment perspective. There are some exceptions, however, and one is the Zaragoza Tram facility in Spain.

One of Zaragoza's new trams at work
One of Zaragoza's new trams at work

About the Zaragoza tramway system

The Zaragoza tram system serves Zaragoza, the fifth largest city in Spain, and connects the historic and modern areas of the city. What is particularly interesting about this tram system, is that it uses a a Rapid Change Accumulator system, which accumulates the energy recovered during braking, allowing the tram to run without an overhead power supply.

The tramway system is just 13km (8 miles) long, with 25 stops and has a central stretch in the heart of Zaragoza. Two inter-modal parking garages (one on each end of the tram line) and main central terminal building also serve the facility. The 25 stops are served by double and simple/single platforms.

There are 21 units of trams that have been supplied by Spanish manufacturer, CAF. They ply on a 32m track. The capacity of each tram is 194 passengers and energy to operate the public transportation system is supplied by an overhead contact system, except in the city centre.

History of the Zaragoza tram

Zaragoza’s original tram system was started in the late 1800s, reaching its peak in the 1950s before falling into decline and being converted to bus lines. The last Zaragoza tram line disappeared in January 1976 and the operating company changed its name to Transportes Urbanos de Zaragoza (Urban Transport Company of Zaragoza).

Constructing a new Zaragoza tramway system

In 2009, a year after the city successfully hosted Expo 2008, a team of companies was contracted to build a new tramway in the city, and the first phase of the system was built using standard technology.

The second phase of the tramway, which mainly runs through the old part of the city, now uses a Rapid Change Accumulator system, which accumulates the energy recovered during braking allowing the tram to run without an overhead power supply.

Securing the investment

The Zaragoza project required an investment of nearly €355.7m ($490m), which was provided by a consortium of national banks and the European Investment Bank. Roberto Miguel and Maria Pilar, project managers for Hill International, which was awarded the contract for the project, said: “This way, the total investment was guaranteed,” they said.

The consortium of national banks that took part in the funding program also included aBBVA Funding (as the agent bank) and Instituto de Credito Oficial (ICO), La Caixa, BBVA, Ahorro corporacion, Santander Bank.

Managing construction

In mid-2009, Hill International was awarded a contract by Sociedad de Economia Mixta los Tranvias de Zaragoza SA to provide risk assessment, budget control, change management and project monitoring services.

Miguel and Pilar said: “The Zaragoza Tram has helped alleviate traffic in a very congested corridor in the city and greatly improved commuting conditions”, adding that the project was divided into two stages.

The first stage started in August 2009 and was opened in April 2011. Work on the second stage began in May 2011 and was launched in March 2013.

Benefits of the new tramway system

Passengers board a tram in Zaragoza
Passengers board a tram in Zaragoza

“The total time for completion (of a tram journey) is 40 minutes, and each station is an average of 500m apart,” Miguel and Pilar said. “This line transports an average of 95,000 passengers each day, which is more than twice as many as Barcelona - the second most important line in Spain - can transport." They added that the Zaragoza tram runs at an average speed of 20km per hour, compared with 16km per hour by buses in the heart of the city.

Cutting-edge technology has played a major role in the new tramway system. "The tram has four stops without catenary," they said: "This energy-embedded storage system allows driving in areas based on super-condenser and batteries."

A prime driver for building the new tramway system is improving urban mobility and air quality in the city centre, and providing a high-capacity mode of transport.

John Newton, Hill International's recently appointed vice president of business development for Europe, said: “The tramway system has historically been a convenient mode of transport in several small European cities and continues to be so. We have put our best foot forward in completing the project, that was inaugurated in March 2013 and currently transports some 95,000 passengers daily."

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