European Year for Innovation and Creativity

Трамвай, die Straßenbahn, tramvai –- story of the TRAM



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Tram is train-alike public transport vehicle that is moving on rails. Some people mix up trams with trolley's (electric buses, which use twin trolley poles to draw its power from everhead wires). To people who live in cities with trams and/or trolleybuses it is almost unbelieveable to confuse them, but some people do it. Seems that cities that have tram lines have a bit different spirit, and that is why I chose to write an article about trams – it's something that connects my home city Vienna with my volunteering host community Arad.

Origins of tram

The terms 'tram' and 'tramway' were originally Scots and Northern England words for the type of truck used in coal mines and the tracks on which they ran, probably derived from the North Sea Germanic word 'trame' of unknown origin, meaning the beam or shaft of a barrow or sledge.

First trams

The first mechanical trams were powered by stream. Next type of trams were cable cars, pulled along the track by a continuously moving cable running at a constant speed that individual cars gripped and released to stop and start.

Electric trams were first successfully tested in service in Richmond, in Virginia, in 1888. Earlier installations were proved unreliable, sometimes providing power through a live rail and a return rail, providing electric shocks to people and animals crossing the tracks.

In some places other forms of power than electricity for trams were used – Hastings and Stockholms Sparvägar in Sweden and some lines in Karachi used petrol trams, and Lytham St Annes used gas trams. Paris operated trams that were powered by compressed air. In New York city some minor lines used storage batteries.

Tram systems in world

In 1865, a horse tramway was established in Berlin, in 1881 the world's first electric tram line opened. At the end of the 19th century the horse trams (Große Berliner Pferde-Eisenbahn - Great Berlin Horse Tramway) were changed into electric ones (Große Berliner Straßenbahn – Great Berlin Tramway). By 1930, the network had a route-lenghts of over 630 km with more than 90 lines. In West Berlin by 1967 all tram lines had been shut down with the exeption of two lines constructed after the German reunion, the Berlin tram continues to be limited to the eartern portion of Berlin.

A Stadtbahn (city railway) is a tramway that includes segments built to rapid transit standards, usually as part of a process of conversion to a metro railway. The Wiener Stradtbahn (Vienna) was in the begginning a system of heavy rail lines circling the city, operated by steam trains. After WW I lines were converted into an electric light rail system; after updating infrastructure in 1990's the lines were partially relocated: they are now part of Vienna U-Bahn services, the Vorortelinie line remained heavy rail and is now part of the Vienna S-Bahn.

With 173.4km of track, Vienna's network is one of the largest in the world. The cars have been constantly modernised over the years and many are now ultra low-floored. Many of the Austrian tramlines have been in constant operation since they were first opened. Vienna started with horse trams in 1865, with electrification in 1897.

Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) was the first city in Europe to have a full time (from dawn to dusk) optional electric tram line, introduced shortly after the city became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Since then, the trams have been important in the development and expansion of the city.

In United states trams are called 'streetcarss' and they were common throughout the industrialized world in the late 19th and early 20th century, but dissapeared from most cities by the mid-twenties for a variety of financial, technological and social reaosns... Chicago had the largest streetcar system in the world at its peak during the first half of the 20th century, with over 250 miles of track and providing over 900 million rides annually at its peak. Today, there are no streetcars remaining; the last trolleys were converted to elevated trans in the 1950s. The last streetcar run was on June 21, 1958. The streetcar rails are still visible in numberous locations throughout the city, having been left in place & simply paved over. By contrast, trams in continental Europe continued to be used by many cities.

In Canada, Toronto has currently North America's largest streetcar system; and it's also the only city to have streetcar service remaining in Canada.

The first Japanese tram line was inaugurated in 1895. The tram reached its zenith in 1932 when 32 rail companies operated 1,479 kilometres of track in 65 cities.

During the 1980-s the world's largest tram system was in Leningrad (now St Petersburg). Now the largest tram network in the world is in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and has 499 trams running on 249 kilometres of track with 1770 tram stops.

Advantages and disadvantages

Advantages for trams can be considered: trams give off no exhaust emissions at point of use (green issues!); passenger comfort is normally superior to buses because of controlled acceleration and braking and curve easement; because tracks are visible, it is easy for potential riders to know where the routes are; operating costs are lower; trams can run on renewable electricity.

Besides that, there are some disadvantages: tram infrastructure occupies urban space at ground-lever, sometimes to the exclusion of other users, including cars; the capital cost is higher than for buses; trams can cause speed reduction for other transport modes when it stops in the middle of the road and waiting whilst passengers alight/board the tram; when operated in mixed traffic, trams are more likely to be delayed by disruptions in their lane (buses, by contrast, can sometimes maneuver around obstacles); tram tracks can be dangerous for cyclists, particularily those with narrow tyres (may get their wheels caught in the track grooves); steel-wheeled trams are noisier than rubber-wheeled trolleys.

Trams in pop-culture

* Danzig trams figure extensively in the early stages of Günter Grass' Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum). In the last chapter the novel's hero Oskar Matzerath and his friend Gottfried von Vittlar steal a tram late at night from outside Unterrath depot on the northern edge of Düsseldorf, having a surreal journey.

* There is a play named "A Streetcar Named Desire", which is made into movie in 1951.

* Luis Buñuel filmed "La Ilusión viaja en tranvía" ("Illusion Travels by Streetcar") in Mexico in 1953.

Trams in Romania

There are currently 13 tram systems in Romania – Arad, Botosani, Braila, Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, Craiova, Galati, Iasi, Oradea, Ploiesti, Resita, Sibiu, Timisoara.

Most rail turning points in Romania are manually operated, so it is not rare to see driver jumping suddenly out of tram, changing rails and continuing the ride.

In Timisoara, often called "Little Vienna", was the second European and the first city in Romania which introduced horse-drawn trams in 1867.

Meeting ULF in Oradea

In the middle of January I was on the trip with other volunteers to see the Bear's Cave. On our way back through Oradea, where we unfortunately had no time to visit the city, standing in the front of train station, near the tram stop, I noticed a tram very similar to the one in my home city – Vienna. These trams are called ULF-s. ULF is a short form of Ultra Low Floor. Low floors are supposed to make access to trams very easy for passengers in wheelchairs and with baby carriages. The ULF technology went into testing in the early 1990-s. In Vienna they have been in use since 1998, in Oradea since 24th of April 2008. In Oradea, the first Eastern European wity with Ultra Low Floor trams, there are operating 10 ULF-s, in Vienna as of 2008, 302.

I tried to catch the tram in Oradea on picture to send it to my friends in Austria, but every time I grabbed my camera, ULF was already on the way to next stop. If anyone's more interested in ULF-s, there is a web page in Internet with the story of ULF-s, but unfortunately it is only available in German: