The Old Tramway

  • The Old Tramway
  • The Old Tramway
  • The Old Tramway
  • The Old Tramway
  • The Old Tramway
Issue 60, September 2013.

The Old Tramway

It is difficult to imagine the city of Lviv without its charming trams. One of the city’s great symbols, its 130-year history is intertwined with the city. From its humble beginnings with its Austro-Hungarian horse-drawn carriages to the modernization of its electric cars during the Polish Republic, from withstanding the armed foreign invasions during the Second World War to its current, modern European low-floor carriages, Lviv trams have long inspired Leopolitan lovers and artists. Immortalized in song by Lviv’s own “Pikkardiyska Tertsiya”, let’s take a look at how this Lviv institution came to be.

The Tram is Born

From the very beginning trams were expected to lay the basis for public transportation in urban cities, and this was no different in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The rapid urbanization of major cities created new problems in getting workers to plants and factories and bringing citizens to city markets. By the late 1860s, the Empire launched its first horse-driven trams and by 1878 Lviv City Council was deliberating its first two tramway proposals. An official contract was awarded to «Societa Triestina Tramway» in February 1879 and the city’s first routes were festively opened on 3-May-1880, making Lviv only the fourth city in the Empire with a tram. The horse-drawn trams pulled heavy metal coaches with open or closed wagons along the rails, and by 1889 saw 105 horses pull 37 wagons on two separate routes. The new transportation proved popular with Leopolitans, as the trams provided transport to around 1,867,000 passengers per year. The system was not ideal though, as the animals were forced to work several hours a day and needed maintenance and care. Moreover, they left a lot behind to clean up. By 1894, Lviv City Council recognized that the horse-drawn trams could not manage passenger flow and while steam-powered trams briefly replaced the horses, it was the advent of the electric current that brought the greatest potential for developing this means of transport.

From the Electric Tram to Its Golden Days

The electric tram is the brainchild of genius engineer and inventor Werner von Siemens. It was his Siemens & Halske company that opened the world’s first tram line in 1881 between Berlin and Lichterfeld and it was the same company that Lviv City Council selected to build the city’s electrical tram infrastructure alongside a 300 kW power plant. Lviv’s electric tram line was launched on 31-May-1894 with a dedication at Stryjsky Park and festivities that attracted many citizens. In 1896, Lviv city administration took control of the Siemens & Halske tram infrastructure and by 1908 the tramway was fully electrified.

The Second World War threatened to devastate the tram business in Lviv, especially during the artillery and bombing of the Soviet assault in September 1939 and the Red Army’s seizure of the city in July 1944. While several lines needed to be closed for service, much of the tram infrastructure was preserved. The post-war years faired no easier for our lovely tramway as the Soviet annexation of the city and its subsequent policy of “population exchanges” between Poland and the Ukrainian Soviet Republic saw fully 80% of the tram’s management exiled to Poland. The city was forced to recruit railway personnel and experts from Eastern Ukraine before fully resuming transport.

Lviv’s tram enjoyed its ‘Golden Years’ during the 1950s as the tram lines were updated to the trolleybus system and the network became Lviv’s main mode of public transportation. The tram played a great role in the life of Leopolitans, who used it not only to get to and from work, but also a place to make acquaintances and even fall in love. No history of Lviv would be complete without at least one amorous tale from its beloved tram. The 1970s saw some tram lines to the city centre shut down and by 1988, the first fast trams were introduced (currently operating on lines 3 & 5). While many extensions of the network have been planned, most notably a line to the Sykhiv District, no extensions have been made to the network since.

Lviv’s Trams Today

Ukraine’s independence in 1991 brought radical change and had a major impact on the country’s tram systems. As huge numbers of private cars and minibuses reduced the need for trams in many cities, trams all but disappeared. For example, Lviv’s trams served nearly 140 million passengers during the year of independence; yet by 2002 this figured had dropped by 60 million (almost half!). While Lviv’s trams still attracted a large amount of customers, the system faced a problem with “free rides”. It is estimated that fully 65% of the riders neglected to pay for their trips, causing a consider burden on the finances of the company and the government of the Lviv Oblast. Luckily for Leopolitans though, our entire tram network has persevered. Could you possibly imagine Lviv without its trams?

Today the Lviv tram infrastructure consists of approximately 220 wagons that run on 9 lines across 75 kilometres of track. Most of the carriages were produced by Czech firm ČKD Tatra Works, while the company still employs a couple of pre-WWI Gothaer Waggonfabrik wagons that are used only for the purposes of maintenance and utility. The company has recently upgraded their carriages, making their first purchase since the independence of Ukraine on 20 overhauled and modernized German KT4 trams and awarding a contract to supply the modern low-floor trams to Elektrotrans – a joint venture of Electron and TransTec Vetschau. These newest additions to Lviv’s long tram history were introduced in August and now run on route 9a.

The tram may no longer be the number one choice of transportation in Lviv, but it remains the quaintest way to get around the city. While the price remains at 1.50 UAH, having risen from 1.25 UAH prior to the city hosting the EURO 2012 football championships), it still remains the most cost-efficient. The Lviv tramway has remained a constant fixture in the life of Leopolitans through political and military turbulences alike for the last 130 years and remains one of the most recognizable cultural brands of the Western Ukraine capital. So if you need a break from the heat of the sun and the fumes from the cars are getting you down, take a piece of advice from “Pikkardiyska Tertsiya”, and “[Go] to where the green grass is, [on the] lucky, oh-oh-oh, old tramway.”