A RECENT trip to the Côte d'Azur gave me the chance to see first-hand the latest stage of the tramway revolution that is gripping France. Throughout Nice the streets are up and squares dis gured by fencing - although this did little to diminish our enjoyment of the sun and food.
Before the First World War Nice had a network of 10 electric tram routes, extending as far as Monte Carlo, building on a horse-drawn service that had started as early as 1878. But from the 1920s onwards the impact of the motor car and buses led to a reduction in routes and the last tram ran on 10 January 1953.
In recent years concerns over the environment and congestion have encouraged a revival of French tramways, and the existing networks, totalling 200km, are being extended by 150km in 2007, with the Nice Ligne 1 due to open in the autumn.
The success of early schemes in Nantes, where 40% of journeys in the city centre are by tram, and Grenoble (1987) has inspired the spread of trams to Rouen (1994), Strasbourg (1994), Orleans (2000), Lyon (2001), Bordeaux (2003), and, this year, to Montpellier and Marseille.
Mulhouse, Valenciennes and Le Mans are, like Nice, well advanced with plans. Nice has major congestion problems, with one of the highest rates of individual journeys in France - an average 4.2 journeys a day in the centre compared with 3.6 in most large French cities.
The first c335M (£210M) line will run 9.9km from Las Planas to Pont Michel via the railway station and old town. The trams themselves will be powered by batteries. Alsthom is providing the rolling stock, which is currently being tested.
It is striking how quickly the French are transforming their public transport system. The current disruption of the streetscape in Nice will denitely be worth all the hassle.
This is a repeat of last week's article, which, regrettably, was published incorrectly.