bus hydrogene tram rouen voyage temps - Rouen.  From horse-drawn tram to hydrogen buses: enjoy our journey through time
The agglomeration of Rouen has undergone, in 200 years, important changes in the offer of public transport. (© Métrobus, Pascal Godon and Charles Crespolini / 76actu)

The agglomeration of Rouen is today made up of a solid public transport offer, even if the surrounding small municipalities are feeling neglected. This offer will be reinforced in August 2021 by electric buses and in 2022 by hydrogen buses. We were interested in the ancestors of the current network: from the animal-drawn tram to Teor, through the trolleybuses and the current “metro”.

In Rouen, is it a disguised metro or tram?

It is important to broach the subject quickly in Rouen, when it comes to public transport. Since the 1990s, we have called the metro vehicle, but it is indeed a tram. The difference relates first of all to its use: “A metro, unlike a tram, never intercepts road traffic. Thus, the tram tracks can be crossed by road traffic”, indicated in 2017 Catherine Goniot, general manager -deputy in charge of mobility at the Metropolis. In addition, the rolling stock is not the same. In Rouen, these are the same trains as in Le Havre, which is called the tramway.
From the launch of the studies, in 1989, the technicians called it a “light metro”, “there was never any question of the tram”, recalls Yvon Robert in charge of its realization. And it is the former mayor of Rouen who decided to remove the term “light”. Metro, thus amputated, remained, until defining the transport network integrating light rail and buses, “metrobus”, until 2010, before the name of Réseau Astuce.

In the 1970s, an “unattractive network”

In the 1970s, the bus was hegemonic. He got the skin of the tram and the trolleybus. But the network is unattractive. The buses were still “stuck in the flow of general traffic”, note Charles Crespolini and Pascal Godon in the book Metrobus. Only 14% of trips were made by public transit. “The network, unattractive, has never attracted much”, support the two authors.

In the 1970s, with their 70 trips per year and per inhabitant, public transport in the Rouen agglomeration was far behind the average for French agglomerations of the same size, the best of which had twice the attendance.

Charles Crespolini and Pascal Godon.

Gradually, the need for a “metro” is felt. While “Jean Lecanuet [ancien maire de Rouen, NDLR] did not want to hear about it ”, remembers Yvon Robert, in charge of piloting the construction of the new tramway, studies were launched between 1975 and 1989.

An increase in attendance

Yvon Robert, at the request of Laurent Fabius, moved to Rouen in 1987. He became vice-president of Sivom in charge of transport, in 1989. On that date, Laurent Fabius decided to build the tram, which was to be inaugurated five years later. “In 1989, Lyon, Grenoble, Nantes, Marseille… All had a tram or a metro. In Rouen, it was still ‘God bagnole’ ”, remembers Yvon Robert.

The arrival of the tram, neglected since the 1950s, is therefore a radical turning point for the agglomeration. “The tram for the city is fundamental. This is what keeps the city alive, ”says the former mayor of Rouen, Yvon Robert, to this day. With the tram, the entire network has benefited from an increase in attendance.

In 30 years, the supply and use of public transport in Rouen has been doubled. I wouldn’t even be surprised if it was more than doubled

Yvon Robert.

1 – The horse-drawn tram

tram hippo - Rouen.  From horse-drawn tram to hydrogen buses: enjoy our journey through time
After having started with steam traction, the trams of Rouen will switch to horseback. Here, a double-decker vehicle from the Maromme line, probably around 1890. (© Métrobus, Pascal Godon and Charles Crespolini)

In the 1880s, Rouen acquired a network of horse-drawn railways, with nine lines. In picture, a tram pulled by horses on the Rouen-Maromme line, around 1890.

2 – The electric tram

tram xxe - Rouen.  From horse-drawn tram to hydrogen buses: enjoy our journey through time
In 1952, tram 19 headed for Bonsecours. This line will be the last to disappear, on February 28, 1953. (© Métrobus, Pascal Godon and Charles Crespolini)

From 1894, Rouen set up an electrified tram network: urban transport deemed efficient. At the start of the 20th century, “the Rouen network with around forty kilometers was one of the largest tram networks in the provinces”. The last tram disappeared in 1953.

3 – The rise of the bus

After the war, the rails were in poor condition and much of the rolling stock was obsolete. The city’s elected officials want to invest in the bus, considered more suitable for city traffic, while retaining the tram. A serious accident in the coast of the monumental cemetery gives the pretext to change vision.

4 – Trolleybuses

trolley - Rouen.  From horse-drawn tram to hydrogen buses: enjoy our journey through time
The trolleybus will disappear in the 1970s. The absolute priority is given to the automobile. (© Métrobus, Pascal Godon and Charles Crespolini)

The operation of the first buses was expensive and their low power made them inefficient to climb the slopes of Rouen. So the Compagnie des tramways de Rouen decided to use trolleybuses for the first time in 1933, in particular to go to the Hauts de Rouen. The last trolleybus stopped running in 1970. The bus then became hegemonic.

5 – The metro (tram!)

metro rouen - Rouen.  From horse-drawn tram to hydrogen buses: enjoy our journey through time
An oar engaged on the Jeanne-d’Arc bridge. The track is embedded in a wooden deck so as not to overload the structure. (© Métrobus, Pascal Godon and Charles Crespolini)

The tram was put into service in December 1994, with more than two kilometers of underground tracks, in the historic center of Rouen. However, it was not until 1997 to see the Palais-de-Justice station put into operation, due to major archaeological excavations carried out on the site.

6 – The Teor

teor rouen - Rouen.  From horse-drawn tram to hydrogen buses: enjoy our journey through time
The first studies for the realization of the Teor began in 1996. (© RT / 76actu)

The first studies for the realization of Teor were launched in 1996. “We could not embark on the construction of a new tram line,” says Yvon Robert. The chosen one therefore imagined the Teor, for Transport east-west Rouen. Inauguration of the T2 and T3 lines in 2001 and of the T1 in 2002. For Yvon Robert, this is “the most significant success in public transport”.

7 – Electric and hydrogen bus

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Eleven hydrogen buses will land in the Rouen metropolis (Seine-Maritime) at the start of the 2022 school year. They have the advantage of having greater autonomy than that of electric vehicles. (© MN / 76actu)

In August 2021, the Rouen Normandie metropolitan area will receive 17 electric buses. In September 2022, 11 hydrogen buses will complete the offer.