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Metro Mondego: Zhongtong electric buses for the BRT system in Coimbra

In the Portuguese university city of Coimbra, work has been underway for years on the construction of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line with an urban section and a long interurban line – branded as Metrobus M;ondego. The interurban line on largely single-lane segregated alignment has been created by converting a regional railway, the so-called Ramal da Lousã to Serpins, which was shut down in 2010. There will also be an inner-city connection. The entire system was originally intended to be realised as a light rail system, but cost reasons led to the decision to implement it as a BRT solution after years of stagnation. We reported on this in detail here: https://www.urban-transport-magazine.com/en/coimbra-the-electric-metrobus-is-coming/ .

Construction work in the urban area and on the outer line is now well advanced, so that the first section can finally be expected to open in 2025. A total of 42 kilometres of BRT line with 42 stations is planned. In the city centre, the average station spacing is 490 metres, with e-buses running every 5 minutes at peak times.

There are currently delays in the delivery of the 35 battery-electric articulated buses ordered from Chinese manufacturer Zhongtong. The first vehicles were due to arrive in December 2023, but are now expected to arrive in Portugal in the coming weeks. These are 18.5-metre articulated trams with a 257 kWh battery pack on board. The coaches will be recharged at 6 charging points along the route, as well as overnight in the depot. The buses will be able to accommodate 135 passengers, 54 of whom will be seated. When fully occupied, however, it is likely to be somehow cramped.

© Metrobus Mondego
© Metrobus Mondego

35 identical e-buses have been ordered, not split into solo and articulated buses as originally planned. Coimbra is spending EUR 40.5 million on the new buses, including the charging infrastructure.

It’s worth to mention that a further 48 Zhongtong e-buses have been ordered by the Porto public transport operator STCP.

Trolleybus operation which was temporarily suspended in March 2021 due to road works, has not yet been resumed, although the existing overhead line network offers an almost ideal basis for modern, state-of-the-art ‘In-Motion Charging’ (IMC) operations in the hilly city. In contrast, the option of introducing fuel cell buses, which is currently being discussed, can hardly be considered a sensible alternative on this basis. In March 2024, however, 10 new battery buses from the Turkish manufacturer Otokar started service at the municipal transport company Serviços Municipalizados de Transportes Urbanos de Coimbra (SMTUC).

Brandnew Otokar e-bus for Coimbra | © SMTUC press release
Solaris/Skoda Trollino trolleybus operating on line 4 in Coimbra | © Dirk Budach