When French rail system manufacturer Alstom was asked to supply 14 trams to the Cuenca UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ecuador, it knew it faced a tough task. Trams can be tricky to transport, and Alstom needed a shipping partner that could offer a safe, reliable solution.

Words: Isabelle Klieger // Photos: Arnaud Siquet

The historic centre of Santa Ana de los Rios de Cuenca, Ecuador, is an impressive example of Renaissance urban planning in the Americas. Founded in 1577, it has kept its original city plan for more than four centuries. Cuenca was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

Alice Brasse, out-of-gauge transport lead buyer & coordinator for Alstom Transport, says that Cuenca Municipality decided on Alstom’s “Citadis”, cable-free model tramways because it was an environmentally sound solution that would preserve the city’s architectural identity.

“Citadis trams will be installed along two kilometres of track in the city’s historic centre, using Alstom’s APS, a ground power supply technology whereby the tramway is powered by a third rail positioned centrally between the running lines,” she explains.

Cuenca’s complete tramway system will span 10 kilometres and 27 stations, with the capacity to carry up to 120,000 people a day.

“Cuenca will be the first city in the Americas to use this catenary-free tram- way solution,” says Brasse. “Furthermore, the city is located in the Cordillera of the Andes, 2,500 metres above sea level, making this the highest tramway in the world.”

Getting the trams to Cuenca was not an easy task. Firstly, the project was time sensitive: all the trams had to be delivered by December 2015. Then there were geographical issues. To reach Cuenca, the trams were first shipped from Europe to Guayaquil and then transported by road across the El Cajas National Park at an altitude of 4,000 metres on treacherous, foggy roads.

“Shipping a tram is far from straightforward,” adds Elisabeth Nicolas from the Project Sales Department at SDV Projets Industriels Paris. “The trams cannot be lifted. Instead, they have to be kept horizontal at all times.”

It was up to SDV to find the right logistics suppliers for both the road transport from the factory in La Rochelle, France, to Zeebrugge and the ocean transport from Zeebrugge to Ecuador. Nicolas admits that the choice of partners was dependent on their ability to provide the necessary equipment and expertise.

Alstom has used the WW group on several occasions – transporting rail and metro shipments to Australia and Peru, for example – and Brasse has confidence in WWL’s RoRo solution.

“RoRo has a major advantage in that it allows operations to be handled smoothly, with no stress,” she says. “Vessel schedules and transit time are respected, and the team handles our material with care. It also goes without saying that our decision was influenced by economical attractiveness of the RoRo solution on this trade.”