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Bogie from an MP 89 Paris Métro rolling stock
Rubber tires and guide bars of a Montreal Metro train
Ouchy station on the Lausanne Metro line M2, showing a train stabled on a closed platform 'not in use' and another train approaching in the distance. As this station is the end of line the photograph was taken in a way that also shows the track end, including the side guide rails as well as the rails used by the weight-bearing wheels. Photographed through a glass wall.

A rubber-tired metro is a form of rapid transit system that uses a mix of road and rail technology. The vehicles have wheels with rubber tires which run inside a guideway for traction, as well as traditional railway steel wheels with flanges on steel tracks for guidance. Most rubber-tired trains are purpose-built and designed for the system on which they operate. Guided buses are sometimes referred to as 'trams on tires', and compared to rubber-tired metros. See also Rubber-tyred trams, Translohr and Bombardier Guided Light Transit.



An MP 73 Paris Métro rolling stock
Guide rails and running pads (rollways) between Pont de Neuilly and Esplanade de la Défense

During the World War II German occupation of Paris, the Metro system was used to capacity, with relatively little maintenance performed. At the end of the war, the system was so worn out that thought was given as to how to renovate it. Rubber-tired metro technology was first applied to the Paris Métro, developed by Michelin, who provided the tires and guidance system, in collaboration with Renault, who provided the vehicles. Starting in 1951, an experimental vehicle, the MP 51, operated on a test track between Porte des Lilas and Pré Saint Gervais, a section of line not open to the public.

Line 11 Châtelet - Mairie des Lilas was the first line to be converted, in 1956, chosen because of its steep grades. This was followed by Line 1 Château de Vincennes - Pont de Neuilly in 1964, and Line 4 Porte d'Orléans - Porte de Clignancourt in 1967, converted because they had the heaviest traffic load of all Paris Métro lines. Finally, Line 6 Charles de Gaulle - Étoile - Nation was converted in 1974 to cut down noise on its many elevated sections. Because of the high cost of converting existing rail-based lines, this is no longer done in Paris, nor elsewhere; now rubber-tired metros are used in new systems or lines only, including the new Paris Métro Line 14.

The first completely rubber-tired metro system was built in Montreal, Canada; see Montreal Metro. A few more recent rubber-tired systems have used automated, driverless trains; one of the first such systems, developed by Matra, opened in 1983 in Lille, and others have since been built in Toulouse and Rennes. The first automated rubber-tired system opened in Kobe (Japan) in February 1981. It is the Portliner linking Sanomiya railway station with Port Island.


5000 series central rail-guided rubber-tired rolling stock operated by Sapporo City Transportation Bureau, Japan, and built by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Rolling Stock Company
Sapporo Subway guide rail and steel rollways
MPL-85 rolling stock in Lyon métro


The vehicle is in the form of electric multiple unit, with power supplied by one, or both, of the guide bars, which thus also serves as the third rail (the current is not picked up through the horizontal wheels, but through a separate lateral pickup shoe). The return current passes through a return shoe to the top of one, or both of the rails, or to the other guide bar, depending on the type of system.

The type of guideway used on a system varies between networks. Two parallel rollways, each the width of a tyre are used, either of concrete (Montreal Metro, Lille Metro, Toulouse Metro, most part of Santiago Metro), H-Shape hot rolled steel (Paris Métro, Mexico City Metro, the non-underground section of Santiago Metro), or flat steel (Sapporo Municipal Subway). As on a railway, the driver does not have to steer, because the system relies on a redundant system of railway steel wheels with flanges on steel rail tracks. The Sapporo system is an exception as it uses a central guidance rail only.[1] The VAL system used in Lille and Toulouse has conventional track between the guide bars.

On some systems (e.g., Paris, Montreal, Mexico City) there is a regular railway track between the rollways and the vehicles also have railway wheels with larger (taller) than normal flanges, but these are normally at some distance above the rails and are used only in the case of a flat tire and at switches/points and crossings. In Paris these rails were also used to enable mixed traffic with rubber-tired and steel-wheeled trains using the same track, particularly during conversion from normal railway track. Other systems (e.g. Lille and Toulouse) have other sorts of flat tire compensation and switching methods.

The essential difference between rubber-on-concrete and steel-on-steel is that rubber-on-concrete generates more friction. This results in various pros and cons.


Advantages of rubber-tired metro systems (compared to steel wheel on steel rail):

  • Smooth ride (with little "jostling" around)
  • Faster acceleration[1]
  • Shorter braking distances, allowing trains to be signalled closer together
  • The ability to climb or descend steeper slopes (~gradient 13%) than would be feasible with conventional rail tracks. At such gradient conventional rail tracks would likely need a rack.
  • Quiet ride in open air (for residents and those outside the train)


The higher friction causes disadvantages (compared to steel wheel on steel rail):

  • Higher energy consumption than steel-on-steel
  • A larger quantity of excess heat is generated
  • Weather variance. Losing the traction-advantage in inclement weather (snow and ice)[2]
  • Heavier; steel rails remain for switching purposes, to provide electricity to the trains and as a safety backup[3]
  • Tyre replacement cost[4]
  • In-tunnel noise is higher than normal trains due to the roaring sound caused by the tires.


  1. ^  Modern steel-on-steel rolling stock using distributed-traction with a high-proportion of powered axles, have narrowed the gap to the acceleration/performance found in rubber-tire rolling stock.
  2. ^  To reduce weather disruption, the Montreal Metro runs 100% underground. On Paris Métro Line 6, upgrades of tires (as used with cars) and special ribbed tracks have been tried out.
  3. ^  In effect, there are two systems running in parallel. This is more expensive to build, install and maintain.
  4. ^  Rubber tires have higher wear rates and therefore need more frequent replacement. Although a steel wheels set is more expensive than a pair of tires, the frequency of their respective replacements makes rubber tires the more expensive option. In addition, rubber tires for guidance are needed.

Although it is a more complex technology, most rubber-tyred metro systems use quite simple techniques, in contrary to guided buses. Heat dissipation is an issue as eventually all traction energy consumed by the train — except the electric energy regenerated back into the substation during electrodynamic braking — will end up in losses (mostly heat). In frequently operated tunnels (typical metro operation) the extra heat from rubber tyres is a widespread problem, necessitating ventilation of the tunnels.

Similar technologies

Automated driverless systems are not exclusively rubber-tired; many have since been built using conventional rail technology, such as London's Docklands Light Railway, the Copenhagen metro and Vancouver's SkyTrain, as well as AirTrain JFK which is linking JFK Airport in New York City with local subway and commuter trains. Most monorail manufacturers prefer rubber tires.

List of systems

Country/Region City/Region System Technology
 Canada Montreal Montreal Metro Michelin
 Chile Santiago Santiago Metro (Lines 1, 2 and 5) Michelin
 France Laon Poma 2000 Cable-driven
Lille Lille Metro VAL 206, 208
Lyon Lyon Metro (Lines A, B, and D) Michelin
Marseille Marseille Metro Michelin
Paris Paris Métro (Lines 1, 4, 6, 11, and 14) Michelin
Paris (Orly) Orlyval VAL 206
Paris (Charles-De-Gaulle Airport) CDGVAL VAL 208
Rennes Rennes Metro VAL 208
Toulouse Toulouse Metro VAL 206, 208
 Italy Turin Metrotorino VAL 208
 Japan Kobe Kobe New Transit (Port Island Line / Rokkō Island Line) Kawasaki
Hiroshima Hiroshima Rapid Transit (Astram Line) Kawasaki / Mitsubishi / Niigata Transys
Saitama New Shuttle
Sapporo Sapporo Municipal Subway Kawasaki
Tokyo Yurikamome Mitsubishi / Niigata Transys / Nippon Sharyo / Tokyu
Nippori-Toneri Liner Niigata Transys
Higashimurayama / Tokorozawa Seibu Yamaguchi Line Niigata Transys
Sakura Yamaman Yūkarigaoka Line
Yokohama Kanazawa Seaside Line Mitsubishi / Niigata Transys / Nippon Sharyo / Tokyu
Osaka Nankō Port Town Line Niigata Transys
Komaki Peachliner (abandoned) Mitsubishi
 Mexico Mexico City Mexico City Metro Michelin
 Singapore Singapore Light Rail Transit Bombardier / Mitsubishi
 Switzerland Lausanne Lausanne Metro Line m2 (2008) Michelin
 Taiwan Taipei, Taiwan Taipei Rapid Transit System Brown Line Bombardier's CITYFLO 650
(formerly VAL 256)
 United Kingdom Stansted, Essex (Stansted Airport) Terminal Trams
 United States Chicago, Illinois (O'Hare) Airport Transit System VAL 256

Under construction

Country/Region City/Region System
 United States Phoenix, Arizona PHX Sky Train (2013 Phase 1)


Country/Region City/Region System
 Hong Kong Hong Kong Island MTR South Island Line
 Republic of Korea Busan Busan Subway Line 4 (2011)
Uijeongbu Uijeongbu Line (Aug 2011)
Suwon one line, name not yet announced
Gwangmyeong one line, name not yet announced
 Macau N/A Macau Light Transit System
 Turkey Istanbul three lines, name not yet announced
Ankara one line, name not yet announced

See also


  • Bindi, A. & Lefeuvre, D. (1990). Le Métro de Paris: Histoire d'hier à demain, Rennes: Ouest-France. ISBN 2-7373-0204-8. (French)
  • Gaillard, M. (1991). Du Madeleine-Bastille à Météor: Histoire des transports Parisiens, Amiens: Martelle. ISBN 2-87890-013-8. (French)
  • Marc Dufour's "The principle behind the rubber-tired metro". (English)

External links


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