FRANCE: Paris transport operator RATP and Alstom Transport have agreed to establish a joint venture company to develop a new generation of automated metro technology for the 21st century.

Unveiled at the UITP world congress in Dubai on April 12, Metrolab will have an initial staff of 15 experts drawn from both companies and its own offices in Paris. The intention is to develop a 'flexible platform' for use in both new metro lines and the renovation of existing systems. A prototype vehicle is due to be unveiled in 2013.

Alstom President Philippe Mellier said the potential market for automated metros would be worth around €13bn over the next five years. Suggesting that integration of systems and operations will become increasingly important, Mellier said Metrolab will be looking at all aspects of the technology, combining Alstom's expertise in vehicle design, signalling and energy-efficient traction systems with RATP's long experience of operational issues.

RATP Chairman & CEO Pierre Mongin said the operator was looking to harness its skills and extensive engineering capabilities, as well as its knowledge of operations and maintenance. RATP is looking to expand its global activities as it will gradually lose its monopoly on metro and bus operations in its home market. He expects that the Metrolab developments will support a bid for the Grand Paris automated metro network, but this is some way off and international applications are likely to come sooner.