An unusual feature of the new Reims tramway is that when the tram approaches the center of the city it suddenly loses its overhead wires and gets its electricity from an electric rail in the middle of the track.
At first sight I found this rather alarming (as I have already mentioned in one of my Bordeaux posts), since I was reminded of the ‘third rail’ that I used to see on the Chicago elevated system when I was a child. This was a high-voltage electrified rail which brought instant death to anyone who touched it or stepped on it. In Chicago I was even warned not to urinate on the third rail, as that would also bring instant death by electrocution. (Is this true, or is it just an urban legend?)
In any case, it turns out that the new ‘APS’ system used in Reims and a few other French cities is not a danger to pedestrians because it is divided into eight-meter segments which carry electricity only when they are completely covered by the tram. This APS system (‘Alimentation Par Sol’ = power supply from the ground) is rather complex and had huge teething problems when it was first tried out in Bordeaux in the early noughties, but now it seems to be working smoothly, at least from what I have seen in Reims and Bordeaux.
The reason for using the APS system is to prevent the city center from being cluttered up by overhead wires. So you can still take photos of the Reims Cathedral (and the opera house) without any wires getting in the way.
Outside the city center the trams get their electricity from conventional overhead wires, which are cheaper to install, operate and maintain.
Reims claims to have two tram lines, A and B, but in fact they are identical for most of their route from north to south. Only at the south end does line B branch off towards the new railway station for high-speed trains “Bezannes Champagne TGV” while line A goes straight on to the Debré Hospital.
The trams were designed especially for Reims and come in nine colors. The front is supposed to look like a champagne glass.
In retrospect, the surprising thing about the Reims tram line is that there was a lot of opposition to it before it was built, despite the overwhelmingly positive effects that the new tram lines have had in other French cities such as Strasbourg, Nantes, Grenoble, Montpellier, Lyon, Nancy, Orléans, Bordeaux and even Paris. After the Reims tramway was in operation for almost three years, nearly three-quarters of the residents said they were satisfied with it and would like to see it extended.
My photos in this post are from 2013. I revised the text in 2018.
See also: Look ma, no wires! in Bordeaux.