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RVBW uses a Furrer+Frey All In One unit for depot charging, as well as a pair of indoor pantograph-down ‘ZFP’ Zero-Foot-Print charging units. JONATHAN WELCH

Jonathan Welch pays a visit to Swiss operator RVBW to find out how about its route by route electrification programme and experiences with Scania’s Citywide BEV electric bus

On my recent trip to Switzerland, I was invited by electrification specialists Furrer+Frey to view another of its charging stations, this time including its roof-mounted pantograph option, as well as have a look at the Scania Citywide BEV – a type as yet unavailable in the UK, though look out for a full test drive in a future issue.

Having spent most of my career in and around the coach and bus industry, and possessing a curious mind that likes to look behind closed doors, it’s always interesting to visit new operators and see how things are done; even more so in a country like Switzerland, which is often regarded by those elsewhere as the vanguard of public transport. As a keen traveller too, it means I often find myself in places I might not otherwise have visited, and so it was that on a fine morning in late August, I arrived at the smart headquarters of RVBW, Regionale Verkehrsbetriebe Baden-Wettingen, in the town of Wettingen.

There are of course a lot of similarities, and many facets of the operation will be familiar to British eyes. RVBW in its current form was founded in 1970, and is owned by the local communities it serves, a not-uncommon model across much of Europe. Operating a total of 109 route-kilometres across 12 routes, the company has a fleet of 63 buses. Just 19 of these are 12-metre single-deckers, the remainder 18-metre articulated buses, something which would be unthinkable in the anti-artic UK, especially in a relatively small town.


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Located in the Canton of Aargau, Baden’s population has more than doubled over the last century to around 20,000. Known for its thermal springs since at least the Roman era – the name translates as ‘bath’ – the town nestles on the banks of the River Limmat. Neighbouring Wettingen has no mineral springs to its credit, but is home to a similar population, meaning that RVBW’s operations are serving a core area of some 40,000 people.

Employing 166 people, the firm’s team of drivers cover 4 million kilometres per year, carrying around 11 million passengers, down somewhat from its pre-covid 14 to 15 million; it is not just the UK that has seen ridership levels fall. Most routes have a daytime frequency of every 15 minutes, with some combining to offer a 7/8 minute headway on key corridors, and with a focus on providing frequent services on busy key local routes.

Its modern fleet, which includes four Hess electric buses and a Volvo hybrid, is fitted with CCTV, something which European operators have been slower to adopt than their UK counterparts. Unsurprisingly in Switzerland, real time information is available at stops and audio-visual announcements on board are the norm.

I met with electrification project manager Werner Fischer and RVBW CEO Stefan Kalt to hear more about the company’s experiences of electrification so far. Werner explained that the company started its electrification programme in 2019 with its route 8. “It’s one of the few routes which doesn’t pass the railway station,” he explained, “and is also very flat, with a change in elevation of just 62 metres across its whole length. It is 9 kilometres long, and one journey takes 30 minutes, with time to charge.

“It was ideal for our first route. We started simple and have gained a lot of experience. Based on what we learned, we started our second route – route 5 – in 2021. Route 5 has a height difference of 384 metres, and we’ve found that we’re achieving a regeneration rate of 35-40%. We planned from the start to use opportunity charging. If we used depot charging, we’d need to carry a lot of weight in the batteries.

“In winter, things can be more difficult and we need a plan B, as the snow at Baldegg can be quite deep and sometimes we need to turn short. The buses on that route have a 66kWh capacity. We can complete two full trips in good conditions, and then we need to be able to charge. We’ve been faced with a lot of new challenges. It’s important to have access to information from the vehicle so we know the state of charge and can react if something goes wrong. We have to carry out much more monitoring; before you could just fill it up with diesel and go.”

The roof-mounted Furrer+Frey ZFP charging units mean no cables hanging down or trailing across the depot floor. JONATHAN WELCH

Coming soon…

“Our next route will be route 3, which serves both Wettingen and Baden railway stations and will extend to the new thermal baths,” Werner explained. “We’ll be using 12-metre vehicles again. For the rest of the fleet, we’ve decided to use depot charging as it suits our operations. For example, we operate a lot of workers’ buses which just run during the morning and afternoon peaks, so the buses will be at the depot during the day. For our latest contract, we were looking for someone who could supply both the vehicles and the charger. We put it out to tender one year ago, and have settled on Mercedes-Benz eCitaros with Furrer+Frey ZFP (Zero-Foot-Print) depot charging infrastructure.

“We are very aware that overhead pantograph-down charging is not yet fully standardised but we expect that by the time we are up and running, standards will have been finalised. Our whole operation will be cable-free. All the buses will be equipped with charging rails on the roof. A useful side-effect is that it means the new buses can be used on our first two routes using the on-route chargers.” The eCitaros are due for delivery early next year, with charging infrastructure to be installed around the same time.

The fitting of roof rails and opportunity charging also brings operational flexibility, Werner added. “If a bus does around 300km per day, we would still need to recharge at least once during the day. We thought it would be good to add a charger at the railway station in Baden, which is a key point for our routes, to increase flexibility and reliability. It means we save on manpower and kilometres as buses don’t need to return to the depot.”

Addressing the issue of electricity supply and cost, Werner said: “We also think that in the near future, power will be more expensive at night, and cheaper when the sun is out during the day,” as a consequence of the increase in use of electric vehicles and growing overnight demand. However, he added that it is not always as easy to plan a project which uses opportunity charging, as it means dealing with a number of municipal electricity providers and other stakeholders to be able to install the infrastructure; in that regard, depot charging would be easier, at the cost of flexibility.

After this, the operator’s route 2 looks like the next candidate for electrification; another busy route, at 17km long and serving a shopping centre, it has a height difference of 230m, meaning potential for savings through regeneration.

The modern, eco-friendly depot is home to a fleet which consists of articulated buses such as this MAN Lion’s City as well as electric single-deckers, including Hess vehicles as well as the Scania Citywide. JONATHAN WELCH

Planning ahead

”You really need to plan ahead,” Werner continued, “so that you have the buses and infrastructure in place at the same time. One charger is not enough; when the car park at Baldegg was being resurfaced, where the bus terminates, we couldn’t access the charger there. At the same time, the charger at the other end of the route stopped working. Of course, we still have diesel buses, so we could cover the route. But you have to plan for that. That’s why we’re pushing to install chargers at the railway station in Baden too. We’d like to have one DC converter feeding four or five pantographs, and use software to allocate charge to buses depending on what they need, based on their duty and next opportunity to recharge.”

Some charging providers are already looking in this direction, though existing depot and en-route charging supplier Furrer+Frey says it prefers at present to focus on what it does well and serves a different purpose to other products on the market, offering its All-In-One solution, rather than offer a ‘me too’ solution. “Our All-In-One is cheaper,” countered Furrer+Frey Senior E-mobility Consultant Beat Winterflood, “so we could install multiple All-In-Ones.”

We were joined by CEO Stefan for a walk around the depot, and a look at both the outdoor F+F All-In-One charger and the two roof-mounted pantograph ZFP chargers housed inside the depot building. The big advantage of using pantograph depot charging was obvious; no cables hanging down, no need for drivers to remember to plug in every time they park, though at the expense of installing pantographs.

Within the depot building, the two charging heads had been installed with markings painted on the surface to aid driver positioning. Although it remains the responsibility of the driver to line up the bus, a directional WiFi antenna will only allow the pantograph to deploy once the bus is within the allowable tolerances.

I was intrigued to see that, on the initiative of RVBW, a blue light had been installed on one charging mast as an experiment, which is set up to shine onto the platform of a bus as a guide to the driver for positioning; although not obvious on the day of my visit, it’s easy to forget that this is a region which sees significant snowfall, which covers any painted road markings, so something that is not affected by snow seems an excellent idea, and one which all charging station suppliers would do well to consider integrating into their masts.

Stefan explained that the system had been working well so far, and was well-liked by drivers as it is easy to use; buttons on the dashboard instruct the pantograph to raise or lower via a WiFi connection. Scania has made a particularly good job of integrating this function into both the dashboard, using existing switches with appropriate logos, and when mounting the charging rails onto the bus roof. The bus itself is the second Citywide to have joined the fleet, the first having been a demonstrator and development vehicle which has now returned to Scania.

Having had a good look around the depot and seen the charging infrastructure in action, I was struck by how normal the technology is becoming. No longer is it a new idea, and the infrastructure itself is quickly becoming a mature technology. As Werner revealed, though, there remain challenges, and many of those centre around the installation of charging masts and overcoming both physical constraints on location and supply as well as local objections for on-street installations. Nonetheless, operators would do well to take a leaf out of RVBW’s book: have a thorough plan, evaluate what you can achieve and how, and don’t try and jump in too quickly.

The command buttons to raise and lower the pantograph are neatly integrated into the Scania’s dashboard. JONATHAN WELCH