Made for the Middle East: Visiting Alstom’s French HQ

Didier Pfleger reveals Alstom plans for the MENA region

Earlier this year, MECN’s sister publication Big Project ME was invited to visit Alstom’s facilities in La Rochelle, France, showcasing the work that the French giant is doing with regard to providing transport solutions for projects across the world.

Best known for having designed all 722 of the world’s very high-speed trains, Alstom’s site in La Rochelle is the starting point for a number of high-profile projects in the MENA region, with the facility currently manufacturing 50 trams for Casablanca in Morocco, 28 trams for Lusail and 22 trams for Rabat. This is in addition to 12 RGV trains for ONCF in Morocco. Furthermore, the site currently designs and assembles Euroduplex trains, which are high-speed transport solutions used on railway projects across Europe.

During the trip, Didier Pfleger, senior vice president of Middle East and Africa for Alstom, revealed how the company uses its facilities in France to meet the needs of MENA clients.

How is Alstom positioning its services to target the Middle East market?

Alstom is a leader in the Middle East market, with several big projects in the MEA region. In just the GCC, we have already delivered the Dubai Tramway, and we are executing four other projects – the maintenance of the Dubai Tramway, Dubai’s Route 2020 Metro (which is currently under construction), three lines of the Riyadh Metro and, finally, the tramway for Lusail.

In MEA, we position ourselves as a mobility maker, providing innovation in the public transportation world. From a classic train manufacturer to digital mobility, Alstom has a clear strategy for 2020 – deploying a global footprint to better serve our customers locally, and growing the weight of our signalling, system and service branches – and we’re delivering it with some success. Our mission is to help people move. Cities are evolving, and the Middle East is no exception. Our role as a key player of shared mobility is to make it more fluid (i.e. seamless integration between all transport modes), more efficient for operators and more attractive for passengers, as compared to individual transport modes.

What is your view of the Middle East market? How do authorities view urban transportation projects?

The Middle East market is driven by full turnkey for urban projects – tram and metro. Alstom is the ultimate provider of fully integrated metro and tramway solutions. Given the complexity of urban rail projects, cities and public transport authorities are increasingly taking an interest in the turnkey approach, allowing them to completely delegate all the technical phases of a project, from studies to entry into service, and sometimes beyond.

Furthermore, it also streamlines securing financing for the project, cost optimisation, and the rest of schedules are guaranteed for the cities and operators alike. In the 2015-2017 period, 35% of all urban rail projects came in the form of integrated mobility systems, according to UNIFE. This is particularly marked in emerging markets. The regions with the most integrated urban rail projects are the Middle East and Africa regions, which represent 80% of the total, and Latin America, with 50%.

How is the La Rochelle facility being used to meet demand in the Middle East?

Concerning the Middle East and Africa market, Alstom’s site in La Rochelle has produced trams for the cities of Dubai and Lusail, as well as Casablanca and Rabat in Morocco. The site is also responsible for manufacturing Africa’s first high-speed train, which is also destined for Morocco.

What unique technologies and systems are being developed for the Middle East, and how is the La Rochelle facility preparing carriages and trams for the distinctive environmental challenges in the region?

Take for example the Dubai Tramway, which was the first catenary-free tramway in the Middle East. Between sandstorms, temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius and humidity at 90%, the tram has been put to the test since its inauguration in 2014. It boasts a tropicalised design that allows it to face such conditions. This includes things such as boosted UV resistance in the paint and the cabling and electronics components, and reinforced ventilation and filtering systems to cope with the dust. Passenger comfort is maintained via bolstered air conditioning and windows with special UV filters.

It is also the first such vehicle to have ground-based power supply all along its course, and furthermore, it is the first tramway equipped with an Automatic Train Protection system, which is based on Urbalis 400.

How will these carriages and trams use the smart mobility systems that Alstom is working on?

Smart mobility solutions will increasingly apply to all of Alstom’s urban solutions offered around the world, including those for the Middle East, as we move forwards. Some of the general areas that Alstom is working on for its future Citadis and Metropolis products and projects include smart solutions for passenger experience, multimodality, connectivity, driver assistance or autonomy, catenary-free solutions (such as APS for tramways), energy savings and total cost of ownership.

Some notable examples of our smart mobility innovations for passenger experience include Optimet OrbanMap, an intelligent metro map, a real-time dynamic information system for metro networks. Within stations, Optimet OrbanMap gives a dynamic vision of the entire metro network, its activity, train position travel times, service interruptions and the level of comfort aboard the trains. Then there is Optimet real-time train occupancy, a platform-based solution that allows waiting passengers to choose optimum placement on the platform in function of the distribution of passengers within the arriving train.

For operators, Alstom has developed Mastria, a multimodal supervision solution which optimises transportation on a city-wide level. It use planned, predictive and automated data analysis to generate quick and reliable reports, allowing operators to rapidly offer alternative mobility solutions to commuters. Mastria optimises traffic fluidity for all means of transportation (buses, trams, metros, taxis…).

Alstom has also invested in EasyMile, an innovative start-up which manufactures an electric autonomous shuttle – the EZ10 – that offers automated first and last mile transportation. And there is Aptis, co-developed with NTL. Aptis is an electric bus whose design is inspired by the tram. It incorporates low-floor accessibility and 360-degree views. With batteries and power systems located on the top and the wheels situated at both ends with no overhangs, Aptis offers passengers a never-seen before full low floor and is able to save road space compared to a traditional bus.

Finally, how will these smart mobility solutions work in the Middle East? Are you working with local authorities to implement them?

As you can see, our innovations in smart mobility are very diversified. We are currently promoting them through technical events, presentations to our customers and exhibitions of all kinds. We have presented all our innovations at the Middle East Rail and UITP MENA conference and exhibition. We are confident that the levels of comfort and benefits we are bringing to the passengers with these innovations will be well received by the market in the coming months.


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