Mike Russell continues his review of tramway operations in modern Romania, starting in the north-east and working anti-clockwise to conclude in Craiova.
An unprepossessing medium-sized town in north-east Romania, Botoşani is only a short distance from the borders with Moldova and Ukraine. Its most recent recorded population was around 106 000, making it by some margin the smallest Romanian town to feature a tramway service. This is also Romania’s newest tramway which, although planned during the Communist era, was the only one to be opened following the fall of the Ceauşescu regime.
Addressing a pressing need to improve connections between residential and industrial areas because of the inadequacy of bus capacity, Botoşani opened its two-route standard-gauge tramway in September 1991 with routes linking the (former) industrial area by a common segment to two separate residential areas of the town. These routes had only a short time to demonstrate their capabilities before the decline of the industries they were intended to serve. Subsequent developments have well demonstrated how a tramway in decline can be rejuvenated by competent management.
Original rolling stock featured a series of ten three-section V3A articulated cars of the Bucureşti type; six similar cars from Cluj-Napoca were also supplied. However the tramway was not competently operated and several vehicles quickly deteriorated into an unserviceable condition despite their youth. Secondhand Tatra T4D cars arrived from Magdeburg to relieve the situation, but the tramway continued its descent into decline.
In 2002 the management was replaced and the new chief decided that the entire operation had to be relaunched with ‘new’ cars. His source was Tatra T4D cars from Dresden and today the entire service is still operated by these trams, with regular and well-patronised services. The Dresden cars retain their striking yellow/black livery and most still carry Dresden EDV fleet numbers, in many cases partially obscured by the local Botoşani vehicle registration plate required for all Romanian trams in recent years.
Two routes are operated (101: Fabrica de Mobilă – Luceafarul, and 102: Fabrica de Mobilă – Eminescu), each to a basic ten-minute frequency, increased to eight minutes in Monday-Friday peak periods. Operation runs around 05.00-23.00 Monday-Friday, finishing at 19.30 at weekends. Construction of a link between the separate ends of the two routes was started but aborted.
Next we move to the area of present-day Romania which was under Austro-Hungarian rule when the first tram systems were opened; one of the area’s most important cities, and the regional capital, is Cluj-Napoca.
Traditionally known simply as Cluj, the suffix Napoca was added in 1974 to mark the existence of an early Roman settlement, but most of its 325 000 present-day local inhabitants continue to use the simpler form. Cluj is an old university city: its first was founded in 1581 by Ştefan Báthory, Prince of Transylvania and later King of Poland, and today’s university is the result of the 1959 unification of two educational institutions: the older Hungarian one and a newer Romanian one. It is actually a three-language university, where students can choose to study in Romanian, Hungarian or German.
The electric tramway was one of those opened in 1987, but this was not the town’s first experience of tramways. A standard-gauge steam-worked system was inaugurated in 1883 and eventually reached a length of 9.3km (5.8 miles) before closure in 1909. Later attempts at introducing electric trams were unsuccessful and it was not until the changed economic conditions of the 1980s that Cluj achieved its ambitions.
The system is unusual in being effectively a long broadly east-west linear axis, worked normally as two separate routes from each end to the central railway station, but with some through journeys, mainly on weekdays. The main operating depot is some distance beyond the eastern terminus at Bulevardul Muncii. As with other tramways built in the last Ceauşescu years, construction standards were poor and in 2010 a plan was drawn up for complete reconstruction in seven distinct phases designed to improve the infrastructure ahead of the introduction of modern low-floor rolling stock.
A revised plan saw reconstruction in two consolidated phases with disruption ‘sold’ to passengers with extensive billboards and onboard notices advertising that a new fleet on rebuilt track would halve journey times from 40 to 20 minutes. The western section was dealt with first and by early 2014 service had been reinstated using a mixture of high-floor former German tramcars and four five-section Polish-built PESA Swing low-floor trams – a reduced order from the 12 cars originally tendered for due to financial constraints. At that time, the eastern section was completely suspended for bridge reconstruction works but the entire line was operational again from June 2014.
System length is about 13km (eight miles) and service levels on each section vary from around eight minutes in peak periods to 10-11 minutes at other times. The western route, 101, linking Piaţa Gării with Mănăştur, Strada Bucium (where a storage yard is situated for trams and trolleybuses), is characterised by traversing parts of the city centre and serving both recreational zones and the high-rise housing development at Mănăştur. Several trolleybus routes also serve the latter district via more southerly parts of the town; trolleybuses have been in operation in the city since 1959 and the fleet now totals over 100 vehicles, including some converted from articulated Paris motorbuses.
The eastern tram route (100), linking Piaţa Gării with Bulevardul Muncii, serves a more industrialised area with small pockets of residential development; the terminal loop is set in grassland surrounded by a forest of electricity transmission pylons. The first rolling stock was a mixture of Timis motor and trailer bogie cars and articulated Bucureşti-built cars of types V2A and V3A. Their deficiencies and unreliability were countered from 1997 by the acquisition of Tatra KT4D articulated cars from Berlin and T4D bogie cars from Magdeburg; in 2009, a further ten KT4D cars were acquired from Potsdam. Some of the KT4D cars remain in service alongside the four PESA Swing low-floor articulated cars delivered in 2013.
Oradea, in Romania’s Crişana region, had an electric tramway established during the last years of the Habsburg empire when the town was known as Nagyvarad. Today it lies in Bihor county and has a population of near 240 000.
A standard-gauge tramway was inaugurated in April 1906 with 14 wooden-bodied two-axle cars, some of which enjoyed remarkable longevity. From 1958 the bodies of 34 such cars built between 1906 and 1944 were rebuilt with a simpler roof profile and fully-enclosed platforms. Many were converted to single-ended layout and more powerful motors and air brakes were also fitted. Several of these rebuilt cars survived in service until 1976.
The routes threaded their way through the old town’s narrow streets and whilst it is obviously to be commended that tramways here have survived and developed in recent years, the most characterful of these old sections have been abandoned in favour of concentrating operations on the broader avenues leading to high-rise housing estates. Today’s network features an extensive loop covering much of the central area, the main railway station and Bulevardul Decebal. Services from both the main northern terminus at Pod CFR (1) and the southern one at Cartierul Nufărul (4) operate in pan-handle formations to cover this loop, with journeys designated in black operating clockwise and those in red anti-clockwise.
In Spring 2015 the section along Bulevardul Decebal was not in use, resulting in all cars working through from Pod CFR to Cartierul Nufărul via the railway station; this closure also resulted in suspension of line 2 – between Cartierul Nufărul with Ioşia – a modified remnant of the former cross-town line which linked the west and east stations. The section to Gara de Est included a number of industrial sidings, used until 1994 by what was at one time an extensive freight operation by electric locomotives over tramway tracks – a feature shared with other former Hungarian tramways. A reminder can be found at Piaţa 1 Decembrie, where in 2011 electric locomotive 3 from 1906 was restored under the sponsorship of Siemens and is now displayed on a plinth. Although many journeys terminate at Pod CFR – a turning circle sandwiched between road and railway bridges in the north-west of the city – a long extension on roadside reserved track paralleling the main road to Hungary (a mere 10km/six miles away) takes trams through an industrial zone to a terminus at Întreprinderea Sinteza. This is a development from the Ceauşescu era and was originally operated at infrequent intervals as a shuttle service to and from Pod CFR by one former Magdeburg Tatra T4D car (1206, later Oradea 33 and today renumbered 44) that had been modified for double-ended operation whilst in Germany. Some cars on the main route 1 now continue as a through journey to and from the city, generally at a 16-minute frequency.
Oradea has been an assiduous acquirer of German rolling stock and most services are now operated by Tatra T4D/B4D motor and trailer sets from Magdeburg, supplementing a small number of Berlin Tatra KT4D articulated cars. Most surprising was the acquisition in 2008-09 of ten new Siemens ULF five-section low-floor cars of the Wien (Vienna) type, together with a maintenance contract. Some feature all-over advertising while others carry the standard Wien ULF red/grey livery.
The tramway today is still municipally owned and operated by Oradea Transport Local S.A. Single journey tickets at RON3 (EUR0.68) can be obtained from vending machines but other tickets and passes must be bought from kiosks. A two-journey ticket costs RON5 (EUR1.12) and a day ticket RON13 (EUR2.90).
For a period, Arad was one of the main cities of Hungary, today lying only a few kilometres inside Romania’s land border with its neighbour. Its tramways have endured an interesting if rather tortuous history. A horse-drawn operation was introduced as early as 1869 and steam and diesel traction were later used but proposals for electrification were stillborn, largely through the outbreak of World War One. In 1929 the entire operation was closed. A further attempt at opening an electric tramway in 1944 foundered as a result of wartime troop activities, but in 1946 the city finally gained its first electric line, laid to metre-gauge.
By 1975 there were still just four routes, but the last years of Communist rule expanded the system greatly with new lines to the north serving Sere Arad and the municipal heating works, and to extensive high-rise housing developments in the inner south-west for which large volumes of passenger traffic were rightly predicted. Some more traditional sections remain, however, of which that served by line 6 to Piaţa Gai is probably the best example, with a side-running single-track line terminating at a loop around the village church, with the tramcar contesting the available space alongside a variety of free-range farmyard livestock. As part of the developments of recent years, a single-track line was built branching from line 6 at Băile Termale to serve a new industrial zone known as Platforma Vest, but traffic on this section has not reached expectations and operation is now reduced to just one return shuttle journey from and to the Făt Frumos loop in each of the morning and afternoon weekday peak periods. An interurban metre-gauge light railway linking Arad with Ghioroc and beyond, using petrol-electric motor cars, opened in November 1906 with a terminus at Piaţa Podgoria; the line was electrified in 1913 with new Ganz motor cars. Former trailers and de-motored petrol-electric cars were retained as trailers. The railway depot was at Ghioroc and from that settlement prolongations extended north and south to Pâncota and Radna respectively.
From 1964 the line was cut back in Arad from Podgoria to Vama Micalaca, with connection to the urban tramway. During the 1970s, a large new chemical works was built on land north of this interurban line around 11km (6.8 miles) east of central Arad; the urban tramway was extended here from 1978 and the Kleinbahn truncated to a newly-installed triangular junction between the main line and the new branch to Combinatul Chimic. In 1983, following transfer to the tramway company’s management, tram operation was extended through to Ghioroc, a total distance of around 21km (13 miles) from Arad. The Pâncota and Radna branches were not converted and closed in 1991. Many examples of the original fleet remain in storage at the former Ghioroc depot and Ganz motor car 2 and a trailer were nicely restored by the local Astra works in 1995 for private hire work. The level of service between Arad and Ghioroc was, and remains, irregular, with gaps of around two hours at slack periods and a rich mixture of rolling stock. From around September 2014 the service was cut back to an established intermediate reversing triangle at Sâmbăteni with motor bus connections to and from Ghioroc on account of bridge reconstruction adjacent to the former interurban depot, but through tramway operation has recently been resumed.
For fans of classic post-war German rolling stock, Arad presents a real fascination. Surely there can be nowhere else in the world where the unpredictability of the sequence of trams on all routes is so marked. Secondhand acquisitions from no fewer than 12 German tramways have arrived here, thanks largely to the initiative of the former Engineering Director, Hans Golda. Düwag articulated tramcars that originated in Essen, Bochum-Gelsenkirchen, Mülheim-an-der-Ruhr, Mainz, Ludwigshafen, Würzburg, Ulm and Bielefeld co-exist alongside solo or coupled GT4 cars from Stuttgart, whilst at one time two-axle cars from Halberstadt and Zwickau were found in the passenger fleet. Some of these are retained for works duties. Several former Halle Tatra T4D cars are also at work, although all but one of the large fleet of similar T4R cars delivered new to Arad during the 1970s and 1980s have been displaced by the second-hand acquisitions. A highlight is seeing the coupled set of former Rhein-Haardtbahn articulated cars working peak journeys over all or part of the interurban Ghioroc line. The most recent acquisitions have been of four Lohner GT6 and seven ex-Bielefeld Düwag GT6 and GT8 articulated cars from Innsbruck and Stadtbahn-M cars from Essen. Nevertheless, the supply of suitable metre-gauge rolling stock from Germany is hardly inexhaustible and Arad has introduced six locally-built Astra Imperio three-section low-floor articulated cars (built with Siemens co-operation) for operation on its trunk route 3 to Aradul Nou. These appear in an all-over green livery, in contrast to the German rolling stock which continues to carry both the livery and fleet numbers of its former operators. Since delivering these new cars, Astra has withdrawn from the tramcar building industry, so the small Arad fleet of Imperio cars is likely to remain unique.
If the fleet composition of the Arad tramways is complex, so too is the route network. Route numbers increment from 1 to 18, with some barat variations, whilst some of the infrequent extensions beyond Sere Arad to the municipal heating plant carry the designation CET. This multiplicity of route numbers disguises the fact that the network itself is actually quite simple, with the main axes being the north-western lines to the housing estates, with their main terminus at the loop at Făt Frumos, the southern route to Gara Aradul Nou (recently reconstructed as part of road improvements with, amazingly for the early 21st century, a new series of centrally-mounted traction poles in the rebuilt carriageway) and the circular routes to the housing estate at Voinicilor.
When first opened, this development was served by two physically separate branches, one direct from the main line to a loop at Bila, and the other a more indirect branch along Calea Renaşteni and Strada Voinicilor to a separate loop on the opposite side of the main CFR railway line. Passengers could be seen scrambling up and down the railway embankment to reach one route or the other. A later development has been the opening of a proper road and tramway underpass beneath the railway, permitting the introduction of through circular services.
Several of the numbered routes – especially those on the Ghioroc interurban and to the heating works – are infrequent and consultation with timetables is essential. With all this variety to inspect, it is quite remarkable that Arad offers one of the cheapest day tickets in the country – a bargain at a mere RON8 (EUR1.8), giving full access to the entire urban tramway. Single tickets at RON2 (EUR0.45) can be purchased from kiosks on the network and must be cancelled on board.
Timişoara (formerly Hungarian Temesvár) has been described as one of the jewels in the former Austro-Hungarian empire and even today fine examples of its ancestry and landscapes are to be found – it is currently the third largest city in Romania, with a population of around 320 000.
The city is also fiercely proud of its place in history and a small monument in one of the central parks testifies to the fact that in November 1884, Temesvár was the first place in the empire to have its streets illuminated by electricity. In this it predated the rather stultified approach of the imperial capital. In public transport terms, Temesvár was close behind Wien, with its first horse-drawn tramway opening in 1869 and the introduction of electric operation in July 1899. The lines were laid to standard-gauge and an extensive network has since developed to serve all parts of the city, with nine routes. The city’s layout is such that several of these operate either as full circular or pan-handle type routes.
From the earliest times, the Timişoara tramway enjoyed strong and progressive development under a succession of long-serving managers. Enric Baader (July 1869-September 1918), whose reign is commemorated in the name of a street opposite the headquarters building and who was responsible for conversion from horse power to electric traction, was followed under the new Romanian administration by Dr Ing Corneliu Miklosi (May 1920-1949). Due to the poor condition of the vehicles and shortage of money and spare parts after World War One, in 1921 Dr Miklosi began a complete tramway reconstruction. New bodies for existing cars were built in the company’s workshops and a later significant project was construction of the first Romanian bogie tramcar – type Gb 2/2 of 1949. His influence upon every aspect of Timişoara’s tramways was profound and the public transport museum that opened in 2000 bears his name. Modernisation continued after 1949 with tramcar T1-62 (1962).
This project was followed by the creation, under Ing Gheorghe Bihoi, of the new large-capacity Timis tramcar in 1969. Initially intended as an articulated car, the Timis was influenced by the Communist authorities in Bucureşti and downgraded to a train (motor car and trailer) arrangement. Production began in a new factory that was also part of the transport company and continued until 1977, when the regime decided to transfer this activity to a factory belonging to the Ministry of Engineering Works. Until 1990, Timis cars were produced in the Electrometal factory (inside the same Dâmboviţa workshop that was transferred in 1977).
From 1971 the Timişoara fleet was updated with around 130 motor and 120 trailer Timis units built in the Dâmboviţa factory; these cars were supplied to almost all other Romanian tramways during the 1970s and 1980s. A prototype articulated version was built in 1982 (type Timis V2) and operated here as fleet number 230 but no production series followed. Another prototype articulated car (type T-83 V2C), with a new body and electrical equipment featuring chopper control, was publicly tested on Timişoara tracks before 1989. The political upheaval after 1989 changed the intended mass production of this tram.
Timişoara was amongst the first Romanian tramways to acquire German rolling stock following the 1989 revolution with the first being GT6 cars from Karlsruhe with GT8 cars from the same source following later. From 1995, transfers from Bremen arrived in large numbers and these distinctive short two-section Hansa articulated cars, both motors (GT4) and matching trailers (GB4), have become a striking feature of the system. Included in the transfer were the five identical cars originally delivered to Bremerhaven under an arrangement by which Bremen agreed to purchase them should Bremerhaven later decide to abandon its tramway, which in due course it did. Subsequent acquisitions from Bremen in 2007 have been of the Wegmann two-section cars, a development of the Hansa series. More recently Rathgeber articulated cars from München (2000), Düwag GT8N cars from Frankfurt-am-Main (2005) and Düwag GT6 cars from Düsseldorf (2006) have arrived. Initially these acquisitions retained their original liveries but subsequently a new uniform colourscheme of yellow and white was applied, later changed to the ‘wavy line’ livery of mauve and white.
In 2015, Regia Autonomă de Transport Timişoara (RATT) invited bids to modernise some of its Wegmann GT4 trams with a partnership between Astra Arad and Electroputere VFU Pascani winning the contract. The project involves only the motor cars, which now carry a new body fitted with air-conditioning by Thermo King; they are equipped with two ac-type electric motors, each of 200kW, supplied from IGBT inverters. The control equipment is provided by ICPE SAERP of Bucuresti, the brakes are by Hanning & Kahl and the pantograph is made by Schunk. At present two such trams are in operation, but a further 12 have been sent to be modernised.
Some outer sections of Timişoara’s tram routes, such as the new route 9 to Dâmboviţa via Bulevardul Liviu Rebreanu, the south-eastern prong to Ciarda Roşie and the north-western arm to Calea Torontalului, serve the usual high-rise developments of the Communist era, but other sections retain a decidedly Hungarian feel, with single-storey housing. Chief amongst these is the section of line 5 to Războieni which, despite extensive reconstruction in the 1990s, entirely retains that Magyar aspect. The south-western line to Freidorf passes through an entirely Hungarian village atmosphere on its way to the extended terminus at Abator, but is currently worked by motor buses.
In 2015, South African investment group Nepi began construction of a new mall, Timişoara Shopping City, in Calea Sagului. This project includes a proposed extension of tram services; it seems that either line 2 or 7 will serve this loop with a stop at the mall’s entrance and tracks, poles and catenary are already in position, except for a small area where an air pollution monitoring station is situated. Completion is awaiting final approval from the EU Commission.
Much of the tramway track has been reconstructed in recent years, with several remodelled layouts, and a notable feature was the banishment of trams from the central square (Piaţa Victoriei) and narrow Strada Alba Iulia in 1989 and their diversion onto new tracks through Piaţa Regina Maria. Pedestrianisation created a large public space for the visit of President Ceauşescu, but had this been planned for one year later it is probable that trams would still be serving their traditional route with its narrow street. One should not infer however that the tramcar is in any way the poor relation as a complementary trolleybus system of seven routes was inaugurated in 1942 and between them the two modes provide all the important public transport services in the city.
The undertaking is proud of its heritage; for the electric centenary in 1999 an impressive parade was arranged (sadly rather spoiled by appalling weather conditions) and a book published chronicling the history of the tramways from surviving records. From 2000, the Corneliu Miklosi Museum of historic rolling stock was created in part of the old depot in Bulevardul Take Ionescu, in conjunction with the newly-formed TramClub Banat. A great deal of restoration work has been carried out by the undertaking – a remarkable achievement given the financial constraints upon Romanian transport operators. Currently the museum is closed for reconstruction works.
In 2010 Timişoara moved to a smartcard ticketing system with rechargeable contactless cards that offer significant reductions for regular travellers over standard fares, which remain available. Single journey tickets for RON2 are available from kiosks while a day ticket (and electronic version) for trams, trolleybuses and motor buses costs RON10 (EUR2.23).
This university and manufacturing town in Wallachia, the southern region of Romania, has a population of around 270 000, and is reached by train from the capital in around three hours. As such it is remote from all the other remaining tramways in the country and was not opened until 1987, despite the fact the manufacturing plant of Electroputere is to be found here. This firm produced bogie cars for Bucureşti, Oradea and Timişoara starting in 1954 but had no reasonably local system on which to test the cars – a most unusual situation for a vehicle manufacturer.
Laid to standard-gauge, the tramway here is effectively one long line on a broadly north-west/south-east axis, with only the central section sustaining a regular and frequent service. This section, between Craioviţa Nouă and Pasaj Electroputere, serves the built-up residential and university areas, with the main boulevard flanked by high-rise blocks of apartments and the tramway laid each side of a central grassed median strip. At one time this central section witnessed trams around every four to five minutes but service levels have decreased in recent years. Some journeys (about one in two or three) are extended at each end: from Pasaj Electroputere to the automobile factory, passing through a largely industrialised area, and in the north-west from Craiovita Nouă to Izvorul Rece, a lightly-developed section with a turning circle shared by tramcars, sheep and goats.
Beyond Izvorul Rece, a long extension further in a north-westerly direction takes the tramway to the ultimate terminus near the Işalniţa thermo-electrical plant and adjacent to a huge fertiliser factory that closed in 2010. This section is otherwise undeveloped and service is sparse, with no better than an hourly frequency even at factory shift-change times; it is laid entirely as roadside reserved-track.
In 2011, construction of an overpass in the city centre necessitated the truncation of the tramway to operate only at the outer ends, with ex-Berlin KT4D and ex-Dresden T4D articulated cars coupled back-to-back to a temporary stub terminus. Ex-Wien E1 cars operated a shuttle from Craiovita Nouă to Işalniţa. Major tramway infrastructure reconstruction supported by EU funding began in March 2013 and has resulted in the entire line being rebuilt except for the sections between Işalniţa and Izvorul Rece and on Strada Henry Ford. Reinstatement of full service was planned for early 2016.
Craiova was unusual in persisting with the operation of Timis cars long after most other operators were withdrawing them, and several such cars were substantially rebuilt and modernised locally in the mid-1990s by Electroputere. Sadly no such cars are still available for service. Acquisitions from the west came in the form of Tatra T4D cars from Leipzig, KT4D articulated cars from Berlin and the former Wien E1 cars that came here after a four-year sojourn in Rotterdam. A surprising series of acquisitions was of a small number of three-axle motor cars from München. Cars of this design require careful and regular maintenance procedures which might ordinarily be beyond the capabilities of a small provincial tramway such as Craiova, though unlike similar cars acquired by Bucureşti those in Craiova were never retrucked. The most recent acquisitions have been of Tatra T4D cars from Dresden which, like other second-hand arrivals, retain their German livery. Single tickets cost RON2 when bought from kiosks or RON2.5 (EUR0.55) on the car. There is a premium fare of RON3 (EUR0.67) for the long prolongation to Işalniţa while a day ticket for RON6 gives unlimited access to all tramway and motor bus operations.
Although three of the Ceauşescu-era tramways have closed in recent years (Braşov, Constanţa and Reşiţa), together with the much older rural line between Sibiu and Răşinari, there is no reason to think that any of the survivors are under threat. Two are under reconstruction or have just completed a rebuilding programme, and the older systems have resumed a progressive programme of track renewals.
The big problem on the horizon for all the tramways is that of rolling stock renewal. Romania has made great strides since the 1989 Revolution, and more recently since its admission to the EU in 2007, in adapting to a market-based economic model, but there is still a long way to go and overall conditions in the country are difficult. Consequently the monies available for fleet renewal are limited and will depend to some extent on the availability of EU funding. The sheer magnitude of the task ahead is daunting, because arrivals of ex-German rolling stock have proved a lifesaver but these vehicles cannot have indefinite life.
For those who have never, or not recently, visited Romania, a tour of the surviving systems would prove interesting, revealing examples of excellent updating work (such as the track in Brăila) and contrasting with the patch-and-mend solution so often found elsewhere. For admirers of the German Düwag tramcar, Romania remains the Mecca, with many more such cars in operation than anywhere else, and in a sometimes bewildering variety of liveries that proclaim their provenance. It can only be hoped that future economic conditions will improve to the point where sufficient funds for fleet renewal become available to enable these tramways to fulfil their potential.
The author acknowledges with grateful thanks the considerable assistance of Cristina Albu, Radu Czech and Silviu Danescu in the preparation of this feature.