IN MARCH, Hiroshima Electric Railway will put into service the first 100% low-floor tram to be built entirely in Japan.

Designated U3·ALFA, the car has been developed by Kinki Sharyo, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Toyo Electric Manufacturing. It consists of five articulated sections on three bogies, two of which are powered. The wheels rotate independently, and the motors and gears are mounted outside the wheels

Key to the ability to keep the floor height down to 360mm (330mm at the doorways) was the development of a suitable bogie, which was achieved by a grouping of eight manufacturers supported by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure & Transport. This group started work in 2001.

Japan’s first low-floor LRVs entered service in Kumamoto in 1997, but these and subsequent builds were imported from Europe or manufactured locally under licence.

Like most modern electric traction in Japan, U3·ALFA uses VVVF motors capable of regenerative braking. Maximum service speed is 80 km/h, and the track gauge is 1435mm, although designs were also produced for 1067mm gauge bogies. The largest of Japan’s 19 light rail operators, Hiroshima has 266 cars out of a national total of around 1000.