Prague trams - serving the city for more than 100 years
Old red and white trams are just as much a part of the Czech capital as Prague Castle or Charles Bridge. The metro is definitely faster and more comfortable, but it doesn’t offer the same views as trams do. Besides, the metro stops at midnight while trams can carry you home at any time of the day and night, that is of course, if you live close enough to the railway tracks. So, when did trams first appear in the streets of Prague? And what is it like to be at the controls of a tram?
The depot in the Prague district of Pankrác accommodates around 150 trams, which run in various directions around the city. My favourite one is line 18, which cuts through the Nusle valley and climbs all the way to the Prague Castle. Marek Vilímek is in charge of number 13.
Marek Vilímek has worked as a tram driver for about two years. While his colleague takes the controls, Marek tells me a few words about his job. As you can imagine, talking to a driver while the tram is in motion is strictly forbidden.
And how does one actually become a tram driver?
“You need to be at least 21 and you have to have a driving licence. If you pass the theory tests and medical checks you then do three months of training, where you learn everything about trams. In the meantime you have to memorize all the lines and tram stops in Prague.”
“The first electric tram in Prague was constructed by Czech electrician František Křižík and it went into operation in 1891. The first line led from Letná to Stromovka and it was about 800 metres long. That was the very beginning of public transport in Prague. The first tram lines were owned by private companies. By 1896 there were already 55 km of tracks; today we have about 140 km and there are about 28 day-lines and 7 night-lines.”
Milan Pokorný is in charge of the Museum of Public Transport, a former depot in the Prague district of Střešovice. If you like trams and want to see what the old wagons looked like, this is definitely the right place to go.
“We are standing in front of a train number 240, which is the oldest tram in our depot. It was made in 1908 and the man behind the timeless design was the famous architect Jiří Kotěra. This type of trams was in use until the 1940s, when it was replaced by a different model known as ‘the submarine’.”
“The legendary T3 model was made in 1962. It was a breakthrough construction and design. These tramcars are still the core of the Prague Public Transport fleet. They need to be upgraded a bit, but they will still be around in 25 years’ time. The producer, ČKD Tatra has made around 35,000 T3s since 1962 and these trams have been used all over the world.”
It’s a Wednesday afternoon and the old T3 tram is making its way through the busy traffic. Meanwhile I try to find out if other passengers enjoy trams as much as I do.
“I am going to Nusle.”
Is that where you live?
“Yes, that’s where I live. I am going home from work.”
Do you use tram on a regular basis?
“Yes, every day.”
Do you find them reliable?
“Yes, but not very comfortable. There are too many people going to work
in the morning…”
You just got on the tram. Is that where you live?
“Yes. This is where I live.”
So you use tram every day.
“Every day for several times.”
How do you find it?“It’s always on time because the rails are on the main roads and trams don’t get stuck in traffic jams. The trams are very comfortable during the summer. It would be nice to have air-conditioning but I guess it would be too expensive. But I guess it’s OK for the price.”
“No, I prefer the old ones.”
“Because they look much better in Prague!”
Well I agree and it seems that trams are here to stay. According to Milan Pokorný from the transport museum, big cities such as Prague have come to appreciate the advantages of tram transportation. While a number of routes were abolished in previous years, he says the city is now investing in reviving some of those tram lines.