Battery-electric articulated option in Kent Fastrack tender

Fastrack BRT network in Kent to be electrified

Battery-electric articulated buses could be purchased for part of the Fastrack bus rapid transit (BRT) network in Kent as part of work that Kent County Council (KCC) hopes will position it as “the world’s best BRT.”

The articulated option is revealed in an invitation to tender issued to vehicle suppliers for the conversion of Fastrack to zero-emission. While KCC’s primary call is for up to 28 standard length vehicles for the Thameside operation, the document outlines an alternative proposal for articulated models, which would be slightly fewer in number.

Dual-door configuration is manded for the Thameside buses, with minimum capacities of 80 for standard buses and 125 for articulated vehicles. Also part of the tender is a second lot of five battery-electric buses for a pending Fastrak route in Dover. They must be no longer than 10.8m and can be single- or dual-door. All vehicles procured must have pantograph-based opportunity charging capacity of up to 450kW.

Conversion of Fastrack to battery-electric operation is being part-funded by the Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas scheme, through which Kent County Council has been allocated £9.5m via the fast-track mechanism.

Double-deckers do not form part of the tender, with KCC having previously outlined its belief that the rapid boarding and alighting of users is best served by multi-door single-deckers. It requires a 15-year life from the Fastrack battery-electric vehicles, and for bidders to detail repair and maintenance packages of five, seven and 15 years in duration.

In addition to supplying buses, the winning bidder will have a place on the Fastrack’s Unified Management of Electrification board, or FUMEs. Also present on FUMEs will be KCC, the bus operator(s) involved, energy companies and suppliers of charging equipment.

“The functions of the board are to collectively resolve issues [and] collate and openly share data with both the Department for Transport and other interested parties,” the tender states. “Their expectation is that FUMEs will also play a role in unlocking further opportunities in the electrification of bus services within Kent.”

Vehicles supplied under the tender must have advanced emergency braking, intelligent speed assist, rear-view cameras, blind spot warnings and pedal application error mitigation among other safety measures. KCC says it has leaned heavily on Transport for London’s Bus Safety Standard in developing the Fastrack buses’ specification. However, no coin tray forms part of KCC’s requirements as it expects Fastrack to go cashless.

The winning supplier is expected to be notified before the end of March, with delivery to be no later than 26 March 2023.