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HESS makes history with high capacity electric vehicle

HESS says its high capacity electric vehicle is a snapshot into the future of public transport

The future is quickly coming in the Australian bus and coach industry. HESS is helping lead the charge as part of a new network in Brisbane.

Commencing in 2024, Brisbane Metro will deliver a new era of connected transport featuring Australian-first vehicles helping to future proof Brisbane’s public transport network.

The new-age buses run by Brisbane Metro were designed in Switzerland and tested on the streets of Greater Brisbane. Its biarticulated battery electric vehicles will not only evolve the way Brisbane commuters and holiday-goers travel – it’s reshaping how Australian operators consider the future of public transport.

HESS says in many ways the lighTram® 25 defies categorisation given that it offers operators both the high passenger capacity one might expect from a tram or light rail vehicle, and the manoeuvrability and flexibility conventionally associated with a bus. No matter what name the vehicle is given, HESS says it is the centrepiece of a highly adaptable, cost-effective and green transport solution.

HESS CEO Alex Naef says the company is delighted that the landmark collaboration with Brisbane City Council has now moved past the testing and acceptance stage.

“We feel privileged to contribute to a public transport solution that is leading the way in Australia,” Naef told ABC. “We always knew that lighTram® 25 would offer something Australia hasn’t seen before: a vehicle capable of quietly, efficiently and sustainably transporting large numbers of people without being reliant on rail infrastructure.

“The testing process was extremely rigorous and involved numerous evaluations, inspections and assessments, validating our belief in the product.”

The vehicles will be powered by Australia’s first ever flash charging system. Naef says infrastructure manufacturing is already well underway.

“The charging system for these vehicles can recharge the bus in under six minutes,” Naef says. “That’s exceptionally fast, but we’re mindful that we also needed to keep the batteries light and the vehicles in frequent operation.

“Our philosophy is that HESS vehicles are there first and foremost to carry passengers, not batteries.”

HESS regional manager Peter Dale says that more than 15,000 people went through the pilot metro when it was shown by Brisbane City Council at the Queensland Ekka in August. He says that members of government and industry had recently been shown the vehicle at familiarisation sessions. The response has been encouraging. 

“Those who attended the events were really impressed. We got a range of highly positive feedback on numerous aspects of the vehicle,” Dale told ABC. “It’s one thing to look at a spec sheet, but another to ride on the vehicle and experience the spaciousness and features for yourself.

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“When you match that with its manoeuvrability – how it effortlessly handles a roundabout, for example – you have people talking about a true best-of-both worlds mode of transport.”

Manoeuvrability is just one of numerous aspects of the vehicle evaluated during a three-month testing and technical evaluation period that began in April. After testing speed, acceleration, braking, energy consumption, recharging, passenger accessibility and the overall driver experience, Brisbane City Council announced that it would order the remaining 59 vehicles from HESS.

“It was pleasing that the testing process was so successful, in part because it wasn’t your typical tender process,” Dale says. “Historically, operators put out a series of design specifications: length, width, and so on. In this case, what we were asked to respond to was a series of performance specifications.

“We began with qualitative requirements relating to accessibility and passenger flow, and with these in mind, we worked on the quantitative side of the design. What we have now is something we’re very proud of, a vehicle with three large and accessible mobility aid bays in the first compartment, an automatic electric ramp, hearing loops and the ability to communicate with the driver via help points, and much more.”

The result is the first ever registered right-hand-drive biarticulated zero-emission vehicle in Australia. Dale says operators in jurisdictions outside Brisbane could now feel confident that this was a mode of transport applicable throughout Australia that will be well-supported by a growing Australian team.

“HESS e-Mobility is a registered Australian entity and, as the Metro project advances, our on-the-ground contingent will only become larger,” Dale says. “We continue to support the project through training programs, maintenance support and specialist engineering advice.

“We’re working with Brisbane Metro, Transport for Brisbane and we’re continuing our long and proud partnership with Australian bus body builder, Volgren. Its own extensive association with council makes it an ideal partner, and its Eagle Farm facility has already played an important role in the testing and technical evaluation process.”

Dale says that although the vehicle may not look like a conventional Australian public transport vehicle, the testing process underscored the fact it’s well-suited to conventional bus routes.

“This is certainly a unique product, but one of its great advantages is that it doesn’t necessitate drastic changes to the bus industry. On the contrary, the lighTram® 25 can future-proof existing bus routes,” Dale says. “This is an opportunity for bus operators to continue as bus operators, but to significantly increase their capacity. The only thing that will change is the mode as companies transition to zero-emission fleets.

“With that change will come significant improvements in the experience for drivers and commuters, which is exciting.”

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