Rubber-tyred metro

A rubber-tyred metro or 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 that run on rolling pads inside guide bars for traction, as well as traditional railway steel wheels with deep flanges on steel tracks for guidance through conventional switches as well as guidance in case a tyre fails. Most rubber-tyred trains are purpose-built and designed for the system on which they operate. Guided buses are sometimes referred to as 'trams on tyres', and compared to rubber-tyred metros.


The first idea for rubber-tyred railway vehicles was the work of Scotsman Robert William Thomson, the original inventor of the pneumatic tyre. In his patent of 1846[2] he describes his 'Aerial Wheels' as being equally suitable for, "the ground or rail or track on which they run".[3] The patent also included a drawing of such a railway, with the weight carried by pneumatic main wheels running on a flat board track and guidance provided by small horizontal steel wheels running on the sides of a central vertical guide rail.[3]

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 that thought was given as to how to renovate it. Rubber-tyred metro technology was first applied to the Paris Métro, developed by Michelin, who provided the tyres 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 reduce train noise on its many elevated sections. Because of the high cost of converting existing rail-based lines, this is no longer done in Paris, or elsewhere. Now, rubber-tyred metros are used in new systems or lines only, including the new Paris Métro Line 14.

The first completely rubber-tyred metro system was built in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1966. Santiago Metro and Mexico City Metro are based on Paris Métro rubber-tyred trains. A few more recent rubber-tyred 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. Paris Metro Line 14 was automated from its beginning (1998), and Line 1 was converted to automatic in 2007–2011. The first automated rubber-tyred system opened in Kobe, Japan, in February 1981. It is the Portliner linking Sanomiya railway station with Port Island.



Trains are usually in the form of electric multiple units. Just as on a conventional railway, the driver does not have to steer, with the system relying on some sort of guideway to direct the train. The type of guideway varies between networks. Most use two parallel roll ways, each the width of a tyre, which are made of various materials. The Montreal Metro, Lille Metro, Toulouse Metro, and most parts of Santiago Metro, use concrete. The Busan Subway Line 4 employs a concrete slab. The Paris Métro, Mexico City Metro, and the non-underground section of Santiago Metro, use H-Shaped hot rolled steel, and the Sapporo Municipal Subway uses flat steel. The Sapporo system is unique because it uses a single central guide rail only.[4]

On some systems, such those in Paris, Montreal, and Mexico City, there is a conventional 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge railway track between the roll ways. The bogies of the train include railway wheels with longer flanges than normal. These conventional wheels are normally just above the rails, but come into use in the case of a flat tyre, or at switches (points) and crossings. In Paris these rails were also used to enable mixed traffic, with rubber-tyred and steel-wheeled trains using the same track, particularly during conversion from normal railway track. The VAL system, used in Lille and Toulouse, has other sorts of flat-tyre compensation and switching methods.

On most systems, the electric power is supplied from one of the guide bars, which serves as a third rail. The current is picked up by a separate lateral pickup shoe. The return current passes via a return shoe to one or both of the conventional railway tracks, which are part of most systems, or to the other guide bar.

Rubber tyres have higher rolling resistance than traditional steel railway wheels. There are some advantages and disadvantages to increased rolling resistance, causing them to not be used in certain countries.


Compared to steel wheel on steel rail, the advantages of rubber-tyred metro systems are:

  • Smoother rides (with little jostling around).[5]
  • Faster acceleration and, along with the ability to climb or descend steeper slopes (approximately a gradient of 13%) than would be feasible with conventional rail tracks, which would likely need a rack instead.
    • For example, the rubber-tyred Line 2 of the Lausanne Metro has grades of up to 12%.[6]
  • Shorter braking distances, allowing trains to be signalled closer together.
  • Quieter rides in open air (both inside and outside the train).
  • Greatly reduced rail wear with resulting reduced maintenance costs of those parts.


The higher friction and increased rolling resistance cause disadvantages (compared to steel wheel on steel rail):

  • Higher energy consumption.
  • Possibility of tyre blow-outs - not possible in railway wheels.
  • Hotter operation.
  • Weather variance. (Applicable only to above-ground installations)
    • Loss of the traction-advantage in inclement weather (snow and ice).
  • Same expense of steel rails for switching purposes, to provide electricity or grounding to the trains and as a safety backup.
  • Tyres that frequently need to be replaced; contrary to rails using steel wheels, which need to be replaced less often.
  • Creation of air pollution; tyres break down during use and turn into particulate matter (dust), which can be hazardous.[7]


  1. ^ Rubber-tyred wheels have better adhesion than traditional rail wheels. Nonetheless, modern steel-on-steel rolling stock using distributed-traction with a high-proportion of powered axles have narrowed the gap to the performance found in rubber-tyred rolling stock.
  2. ^ In order to reduce weather disruption, the Montreal Metro runs completely underground. On Paris Métro Line 6, upgrades of tyres (as used with cars) and special ribbed tracks have been tried out. The southernmost section of the Sapporo Municipal Subway Namboku Line is also elevated, but is covered by an aluminum shelter to reduce weather disruption.
  3. ^ In effect, there are two systems running in parallel so it is more expensive to build, install and maintain.
  4. ^ Since rubber tyres have higher wear rates, they need more frequent replacement, which makes them more expensive in the long run than steel wheelsets with higher first cost (that may be needed anyway as backup). Rubber tyres for guidance are needed.

Although it is a more complex technology, most rubber-tyred metro systems use quite simple techniques, in contrast 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. As a result, some rubber-tyred metro systems do not have air-conditioned trains, as air conditioning would heat the tunnels to temperatures where operation is not possible.

Similar technologies

Automated driverless systems are not exclusively rubber-tyred; many have since been built using conventional rail technology, such as London's Docklands Light Railway, the Copenhagen metro and Vancouver's SkyTrain, the Disneyland Resort Line, which uses converted rolling stocks from non-driverless trains, as well as AirTrain JFK, which links JFK Airport in New York City with local subway and commuter trains. Most monorail manufacturers prefer rubber tyres.

List of systems

Country/Region City/Region System Technology Year opened
 Canada Montreal Montreal Metro Michelin 1966
 Chile Santiago Santiago Metro (Lines 1, 2 and 5) Michelin 1975
 People's Republic of China Guangzhou Zhujiang New Town Automated People Mover System Bombardier's INNOVIA APM 100 2010
Hong Kong (Chek Lap Kok Airport) Automated People Mover Mitsubishi / Ishikawajima-Harima 1998
2007 (Phase II)
Shanghai Shanghai Metro (Pujiang line) Bombardier's INNOVIA APM 300 2018
 France Lille Lille Metro VAL 206, 208 1983
Lyon Lyon Metro (Lines A, B, and D) Michelin 1978
Marseille Marseille Metro Michelin 1977
Paris Paris Métro (Lines 1, 4, 6, 11, and 14) Michelin 19581
Paris (Orly Airport) Orlyval VAL 206 1991
Paris (Charles de Gaulle Airport) CDGVAL VAL 208 2007
Rennes Rennes Metro VAL 208 2002
Toulouse Toulouse Metro VAL 206, 208 1993
 Germany Frankfurt Airport SkyLine Inter-terminal Shuttle Bombardier's INNOVIA APM 100 (as Adtranz CX-100) 1994
 Indonesia Soekarno–Hatta International Airport Soekarno–Hatta Airport Skytrain Woojin Industries 2017
 Italy Turin Metrotorino VAL 208 2006
 Japan Hiroshima Hiroshima Rapid Transit (Astram Line) Kawasaki / Mitsubishi / Niigata Transys 1994
Kobe Kobe New Transit (Port Island Line / Rokkō Island Line) Kawasaki 1981 (Port Island Line)
1990 (Rokkõ Island Line)
Osaka Nankō Port Town Line Niigata Transys 1981
Saitama New Shuttle 1983
Sapporo Sapporo Municipal Subway Kawasaki 1971
Tokyo Yurikamome Mitsubishi / Niigata Transys / Nippon Sharyo / Tokyu 1995
Nippori-Toneri Liner Niigata Transys 2008
Tokorozawa / Higashimurayama Seibu Yamaguchi Line Niigata Transys 1985
Sakura Yamaman Yūkarigaoka Line Nippon Sharyo 1982
Yokohama Kanazawa Seaside Line Mitsubishi / Niigata Transys / Nippon Sharyo / Tokyu 1989
 South Korea Busan Busan Subway Line 4 Woojin 2011
Uijeongbu U Line VAL 208 2012
Incheon Incheon International Airport Crystal Mover Mitsubishi, Woojin 2008
 Malaysia Kuala Lumpur International Airport Aerotrain Bombardier Innovia APM 100 1998
 Mexico Mexico City Mexico City Metro (All lines except A & 12) Michelin 1969
 Singapore Singapore Light Rail Transit Bombardier / Mitsubishi 1999
  Switzerland Lausanne Lausanne Metro Line M2 Michelin 2008
 Taiwan Taipei Taipei Metro Brown Line Bombardier's Innovia APM 256
VAL 256
Taoyuan Airport Taoyuan International Airport Skytrain N/A
 UAE Dubai International Airport Dubai International Airport Automated People Mover Crystal Mover (Terminal 3) and Bombardier Innovia APM (Terminal 1) 2013
 United Kingdom Gatwick Airport Terminal-Rail Shuttle Bombardier's INNOVIA APM 100 1988
Stansted, Essex (Stansted Airport) Stansted Airport Transit System Bombardier's INNOVIA APM 100 1991
Heathrow Airport Heathrow Terminal 5 Transit Bombardier's INNOVIA APM 200 2008
 United States Chicago, Illinois (O'Hare) Airport Transit System VAL 256 1993
Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas (DFW Airport) DFW Skylink Bombardier's INNOVIA APM 200 2007
Houston, Texas (George Bush Intercontinental Airport) Skyway Bombardier's INNOVIA APM 100 1999
Miami, Florida Metromover Bombardier's INNOVIA APM 100 1986
Phoenix, Arizona (Sky Harbor International Airport) PHX Sky Train Bombardier's INNOVIA APM 200 2013
San Francisco, California (SFO Airport) AirTrain (SFO) Bombardier's INNOVIA APM 100 2003

1The system opened in 1901, but was not converted to a rubber-tyred system until 1958.

Under construction

Country/Region City/Region System
 Indonesia Bandung[8] Metro Kapsul Bandung with domestic driverless rubber-tyred technology
 Macau Taipa, Coloane, Cotai Macau Light Transit System
 South Korea Busan Busan Metro Line 5


Country/Region City/Region System
 Australia Brisbane Brisbane Metro, two lines, names not yet announced
 South Korea Suwon one line, name not yet announced
Gwangmyeong one line, name not yet announced
 Turkey Istanbul Istanbul Metro, 3 lines, names not yet announced
Ankara Ankara Metro, some new lines, names not yet announced
 India Nashik Greater Nashik Metro, 1st line from Shrimik nagar to Nasik Road railway station.(17 stations,route length 20km)

Second line from gangapur to Mumbai(Bombay) naka.(10 station,route length 10km)

Defunct systems

Country/Region City/Region System Technology Year opened Year closed
 France Laon Poma 2000 Cable-driven 1989 2016
 Japan Komaki Peachliner Nippon Sharyo 1991 2006

See also


  1. Metro track
  2. GB 10 June 1846 10990
  3. Tompkins, Eric (1981). "1: Invention". The History of the Pneumatic Tyre. Dunlop Archive Project. pp. 2–4. ISBN 0-903214-14-8.
  4. "UrbanRail.Net > Asia > Japan > Sapporo Subway (Metro)". Archived from the original on 2008-04-29. Retrieved 2008-04-15.
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-05-17. Retrieved 2011-12-21.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. W. R. Pierson and Wanda W. Brachaczek (1974) Airborne Particulate Debris from Rubber Tires. Rubber Chemistry and Technology: November 1974, Vol. 47, No. 5, pp. 1275–1299.
  8. "Wow! 2017, Kota Bandung Mulai Membangun Metro Kapsul". Retrieved April 5, 2017.
  • Bindi, A. & Lefeuvre, D. (1990). Le Métro de Paris: Histoire d'hier à demain, Rennes: Ouest-France. ISBN 2-7373-0204-8. (in French)
  • Gaillard, M. (1991). Du Madeleine-Bastille à Météor: Histoire des transports Parisiens, Amiens: Martelle. ISBN 2-87890-013-8. (in French)
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