Tram depots: a blueprint for green building

Tram depots: a blueprint for green building

Five European cities define the cutting-edge in sustainable urban building with four innovative new tram depots

A new series of tram depots offers an answer to the challenge of building new public infrastructure both essential for urban development and constrained by stringent environmental, economic and social criteria.

Tram depots are large hangars where trams are stabled, washed and repaired. They must be near urban areas and work long hours, yet pollute little and consume minimal resources. They are built to last a century.

With such stringent demands, tram depots are ideally placed to lead the way in sustainable urban building. This is the thinking behind TramStore21, a project 50% co-funded by the EU regional cooperation programme INTERREG that brings together five European cities to construct four cutting-edge tram depots.

From 2008 to 2013 these partners are working together to learn how to build the depot of the future. “It’s about understanding everyone’s decision-making process more than anything else,” says STIB project manager Lode Schildermans, “why one project doesn’t go for a particular technology when we do, for example.”

The first depot, Beverwaard in Rotterdam, was opened in August 2011. Starr Gate in Blackpool followed in September. The Ateliers depot in Dijon is due in September 2012, while the Marconi depot in Brussels was awarded a planning and environmental permit last summer.

There are several features that all these depots share: they conserve water (they all use 100% rainwater for washing; 80% of this is recycled every time and the 20% lost to sewage is passed through a filter beforehand to clean it); they integrate sustainable building materials (e.g. residues from local incineration plants); they minimise energy use (e.g. low-energy lighting) and maximise renewables (e.g. heat pumps in Rotterdam). They think too about location (e.g. the Brussels depot will sit on a brownfield site, while the Rotterdam depot has a roof parking for park & ride).

Sometimes best practice can be applied across the board – using recycled rain water for example – but often decisions are determined by local circumstances: solar may work well in Dijon less effectively in cloudy Rotterdam. As Schildermans says, the innovation is as much in learning from one another’s thinking as in the final technologies chosen. This is really where the project adds value.

“Minimising disturbance comes down to a question of price”, the STIB manager concludes. “But because tram depots last so long, it’s worth investing.” TramStore21 offers lessons from a coordinated, holistic, high-tech and innovative approach to building new urban public infrastructure. This could well be the blueprint policymakers are looking for to take building into the 21st century.