Czech Tatra trams in Berlin still in operation after nearly 50 years of service thanks to coronavirus

Tatra KT4, photo: Václav Jabůrek / Czech Radio

The KT4 tram, designed and manufactured by the famous Czech vehicle designer Tatra, has been operating on the streets of Berlin since 1976. The last models were supposed to be withdrawn this month, but thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the city authorities have decided to extend their service.

Trams form an important transportation network in the German capital, particularly in its eastern districts, which used to be part of the communist GDR. Today, most of the trams in use are modern low-floor machines, but the city still possesses around 20 Czech made Tatra models from the Communist era.

One of those who have driven it is Hartmut Gröschke from the Berlin Historical Transport Association (DVN).

“It has that typical Czech bell, all old fashioned. It is fantastic to drive this vehicle. I like it mainly for being simple yet robust.”

He told Czech Radio that while the modern, low-floor trams are more popular among the public, drivers still have a soft spot for the old model.

“The new ones do not have stairs, which makes them much more accessible for old people and families with children. Just 30 years ago people eagerly helped mothers with carriages up the stairs, but that is less common nowadays.

Berlin,  photo: noelsch,  Pixabay / CC0

“Among us drivers the KT4 still has a great reputation. It is reliable, comfortable and is not a moving computer like the new models. There you just need something to go wrong with the electronics, or have some snow fall in the wrong place and there are problems.”

The Tatra models used to form the largest segment of Berlin’s tram fleet, but that changed in the 1990s as more and more modern vehicles gradually began to replace them.

In turn, the discontinued trams have been sold to Eastern Europe where they are still high in demand, according to Mr. Gröschke.

“For example, last year, eight of these trams were sold to the city of Magdeburg and a deal was also concluded with the representatives of Zaporozhia in Ukraine. They were really happy that the KT4’s are available and that they can buy them.”

Other formerly East German cities, such as Dresden, have also been selling their old Tatra’s to Ukrainian cities, where the ageing vehicles have found a new home.

In Berlin, the KT4 model was supposed to be finally withdrawn this month, but the city had to change its plans, says Mr.  Gröschke.

“They were supposed to be completely withdrawn on February 12, because there is construction going on in the area of their regular line. However, the Berlin municipal administration has decided to use the KT4s on a different line. The coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase in the frequency of transport, in order to prevent overcrowding. So the Tatra’s are going to stay for now.”

When the KT4’s do eventually go, it will mean the disappearance of the last piece of tram “Ostalgie” from the famous Cold War city.

Authors: Thomas McEnchroe , Václav Jabůrek
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