Tuesday, 22 April 2014


The final stop on my Austrian tour 2014 in preparation for the new edition of my 'Tram Atlas Schweiz & Österreich' was Innsbruck. I only stayed for one day (21 April 2014), which is more than enough to explore its modest tram network and do a little sightseeing (including the Bergisel ski jump with its funicular-style lift). I had travelled on the entire Stubaitalbahn (STB) already last time in 2010, so this time I only used it from the city up to Sonnenburgerhof, a section included in the Innsbruck day ticket available for 4.50 EUR.

This already takes us to the first point, buying a ticket. At the tram stop outside the railway station, there are two ticket vending machines, but both resisted for a while to accept my banknotes and my debit card, eventually one of them kept the 10-euro note and issued a ticket and the change. So you'd better have some coins ready, especially as at many of the other stops there are only small ticket machines which only accept coins and cards. Single tickets can also be bought from the driver.

The Innsbruck tram system is primarily cute. Its urban sections are mostly in mixed traffic with cars and almost always, even when the track is marked off, buses share the same right-of-way. Even the recently opened extensions on line 3 were laid out this way (in Germany, by current regulations, these extensions wouldn't get any federal money). Having visited on a holiday, I cannot really judge whether car traffic interferes a lot with regular tram traffic on a normal weekday. In the urban area, there are still some stops without proper platforms, although I think that line 3 is now fully accessible, whereas on line 1 even the most central stop (at least for tourists), Maria-Theresien-Straße as well as the two stops east of it, have street-level boarding. This is remarkable as Innsbruck invested a lot of money to replace all older trams with new low-floor Flexity Outlook trams from Bombardier within a very short period of time. The lack of proper platforms is especially noticeable at Fritz-Konzert-Straße, where the boarding area is actually fenced off from road traffic, so laying raised platforms couldn't be easier.

The overall length of the tram system of approx. 38 km may give a wrong impression as a large part of it corresponds to line 6 and, of course, to the STB (18 km), so the proper urban system is still very small and only plays a minor role in the city's urban transport system. This may be the reason why tram lines are not shown in any special way on system maps, although at least the lower numbers are reserved for them, whereas bus lines actually carry letter designations. Line 3 got a new western leg not too long ago, but this only makes sense so far to reach a shopping mall at its western terminus. This was, however, meant as the first segment of a larger extension now under construction to replace bus route O (until a few years ago a trolleybus line) by trams. Line 1 has not changed much over the decades and is not likely to change in the future either. The major flaw with these two urban lines is that interchanges are virtually not available. At Bürgerstraße, the two lines cross, line 1 has a proper stop, but for line 3 only an eastbound stop was added without a platform, and further away from the intersection than necessary, but easily walkable, though. Near the railway station, the two lines actually meet and use the same tracks for some metres, but without an interchange stop. The bad thing here is that even a walk from the nearest stop to the other is a tough thing as you need to cross several streets finding your way across major road intersections and under the mainline railway. In fact this interchange is not even shown as such on the maps. The route of line 1 and its stop locations also makes it very unpractical for those passengers to reach the railway station. There is no easy solution to this, but maybe a completely new line arrangement with the introduction of new lines for the forthcoming extensions may help. Otherwise a city circle line might help, too. On the other hand, many destinations in the city are easily accessible on foot, too, and a change of lines may be nicer between Anichstraße/Rathausgalerien (line 3) and Maria-Theresien-Straße (line 1) with a walk along the pedestrian street.

In most other cities, line 6 would no longer exist. It is what makes the Innsbruck tram system 'cute'. Even on weekdays, the line only runs hourly. It is a relic of times gone by when no cars or buses existed and railways were the best way to reach remote villages on a plateau high above the city, but nowadays the line is more of a fun ride as it does not really serve any places of importance, because those areas with some houses are too far from the respectives stops for today's standards, so buses have to be operated anyway to reach these places. But even on a holiday with weather nice enough for a walk, the single tram required for that service was far from full. One weak point is, of course, its separate operation instead of running a through service into the city centre as part of line 1. In this way it would also be more visible for tourists who will enjoy the ride up the mountain. The line is steep and with many bends, but as has been done in the past, is manageble by normal trams, so maybe a kind of heritage service would attract more passengers (although this may again raise the problem with full accessibility as with the Pöstlingbergbahn in Linz).

The much longer Stubaitalbahn, however, seems to deliver its services as an interurban rural tram line, with half-hourly trains to Kreith and hourly all the way to Fulpmes. Whereas line 6 is completely within the Innsbruck urban fare zone, different fare zones apply for the STB. Certainly, running trains directly into the city centre over tram tracks has contributed to the line's survival.

The Flexity Outlook trams are quite comfortable to ride, and given the steep and winding routes on line 6 and the STB, they do a good job from a passenger's point-of-view, no irritating shaking or wobbling even at reasonable speeds. Also within the city, drivers take curves at relatively high speeds compared to many newly-built tram systems, and the Flexitys perform well there, too. What I don't like so much is the irregular arrangement of the seats, but that may be a result of the intention to place a maximum of seats and may be required by the double-ended trams with doors on either side.

Inside the trams, network maps were readily available. These are large fold-out maps, on one side on a city map and on the other a diagrammatic map. While the first is easy to use, I find the latter rather problematic. As said before, tram lines are shown just like bus lines and the colours used for the trams are pretty difficult to distinguish and identify, with three different shades of malve, basically. The STB has some sort of purple-brown and is therefore hard to tell from the brown of the major east-west bus line O (which may become tram lines 2 and 4). Hardly any bus line acts as a feeder to the tram system and all buses go into the city centre too. As a result, too many lines need to be shown in the central area, making that map even more cramped. So hopefully, the tram lines will be given stronger colours and thicker lines to highlight them on the map, which might deserve a complete redesign anyway.


Innsbruck at UrbanRail.Net  

Tuesday, 15 April 2014


In preparation for the new edition of my 'Tram Atlas Schweiz & Österreich' I made a short visit to Graz on 6 April 2014 primarily to see the subsurface tram route in the railway station area. My last visit was in summer 2010, and since then not much had changed, except that the new Stadler Variobahn trams are in service after some teething problems.

Generally, the Graz tram system is a rather classic streetcar system with a high share of street-running sections, although most of the car traffic is diverted through parallel streets. Although at most stops there are platforms, these are mostly not high enough to provide proper stepfree access, not even with the low-floor trams, of which besides the newer Variobahn vehicles also Bombardier Flexity Outlook (Cityrunners) are in service. Although Graz maintains a large number of older vehicles, too, most journeys outside the peak hours are operated either with these two types or with older Duewag high-floor trams which have an added low-floor middle section.
When I was in Graz last time, several sections were out of service for track work, like line 7 to Wetzelsdorf and line 1 to Mariatrost. I was very surprised this time, that nothing much was done on line 1, which has a long single-track section with several passing loops at stops, making the overall journey with a Flexity Outlook extremely uncomfortable, as the trams switch from single-track to double-track on a badly aligned track too often. But I was told that this painful section is about to be upgraded properly this summer, with longer double-track sections and thus fewer switches which force the trams to slow down.

The necessity of the tram tunnel at Hauptbahnhof can be doubted, but now it is built anyway. But a solution similar to that realised in Linz or now being started in Augsburg would have been more convincing, i.e. with a tram tunnel right beneath the railway tracks. In Graz, the tram underpass primarily avoids a major road junction at Eggenberger Gürtel (but at the same time also eliminated a tram stop in that area). The underground stop at Hauptbahnhof, however, results in a longer walk for passengers to reach any of the trains than before, when trams stopped just outside the station. Whereas in Linz the tram stop is directly integrated into the station building, in Graz passengers need to walk across the station square and then, inside the building, go down to the subterranean passageway to reach the rail platforms. Once the trams from the city centre have stopped at Hauptbahnhof, they need to take a very tight curve to return to their original east-west alignment. All in all, the advantages for passengers are not really evident, at least not to the extent of the investment that was required to build that semi-underground diversion.

One thing I don't really like about the Graz tram network is the use of different line designations in the evenings and at weekends, when only lines 1, 5 and 7 continue to run, whereas the other legs are combined into lines 13 and 26. But at least this is clearly depicted and also explained on network maps. When these lines are in operation, trams wait for each other at Jakominiplatz to guarantee connections. But what may be ideal for transferring passengers, results in rather long waits for those passengers staying on the same tram.
A second city centre route is indeed missing in Graz. This has long been planned but this plan has not come to fruition yet. At present, all lines run along the single corridor from Hauptplatz to the major hub at Jakominiplatz along Herrengasse. The entire network may suffer disruptions in case of any disruption along this bottleneck. Trams from the southern branches can turn back at Jakominiplatz, but there are no such facilities for trams from the west or north. Trams from Hauptbahnhof run through the narrow Murgasse to reach Hauptplatz and therefore the width even for new trams is restricted to just 2.2 m, quite narrow for modern low-floor trams.
The entire tram network is within the city fare zone and any ticket for the tram is also valid on buses and regional trains (S-Bahn Steiermark) within the city boundaries. A 24-hour-ticket is available at 4.70 EUR from ticket machines.
Trams are now operated by 'Holding Graz Linien', a rather clumsy name for a transport operator, which used to be GVB (Grazer Verkehrsbetriebe). Their website is integrated into the general website dealing with services provided by the same holding (owned by the city). I would prefer a dedicated website that is easier to handle for visitors, while other services like water or garbage are mainly of interest for locals. So similar to Vienna, they should just present themselves as 'Grazer Linien', for example.

Having visited on a Sunday, I didn't manage to grab a network map, but those posted are quite nice and legible, with the trams clearly shown as something superior to buses, but I would suggest to use a better set of colours, not red (1/7), purple (3/6) and malve (4/5). By the way, riding trams in the old town is currently free, but this is just on a trial basis and may not be valid in the future.


Graz Tram at UrbanRail.Net

Monday, 14 April 2014

BUDAPEST Metro & Tram

I hadn't been to Budapest in more than 15 years. I always told myself that I would go back as soon as the fourth metro line was open, and so I did (2-5 April2014), but 15 years ago, noone would have thought that it might take so long, but now it's open and running and at least it didn't disappoint me and Budapest locals who will have to use it every day, certainly like it, too. One week after its inauguration, many people were still exploring and admiring.

Anyway, let's start from the beginning, as usual, and look at the Metro later. Budapest has, no doubt, a good transport system, and with metro, trams, two types of suburban railways (MAV and HEV), a funicular, trolleybuses, a rack railway, a children's railway and even a chairlift, there is enough to explore for any urban transport enthusiast. To find out what goes where, can be a tricky thing, as only small fold-out maps are available, which are more like an enhanced metro map, i.e they show all tram lines but only with major stops, as well as some trunk bus lines. And these were updated with the new line M4. Some material was also available that shows the changes that have taken place in conjunction with the M4 opening, but these only affect bus routes in the southwestern area, whereas tram lines have remained basically unchanged (quite notable as some lines double the metro on the surface), except that a weekend line 48 was introduced. I was hoping to get a full city map with all lines as are posted in some places, but probably they haven't updated it yet.

When I arrived at Ferihegy Airport, there was a BKV office right next to the exit point in the main arrival hall, easily visible and staffed with an English-speaking lady. They don't accept euros but a cash machine was nearby to get some Forint. I got a 72-hour-ticket, exactly the period I needed for my stay, but there are also 24- and 48-hour tickets, and they give you unlimited travel on almost anything within the Budapest city boundaries (and the city is pretty large), except the funicular up to the Buda castle hill and the Children's Railway. At 4150 Forint (that's some 13 EUR), it is not exceptionally cheap compared to other prices in Hungary, but a good deal. And keep your ticket at hand at all times because you'll need to show it frequently!

Although certainly quite smaller than it used to be, the tram system (Villamos in Hungarian) is still rather large and a useful means of transport also for ordinary tourists. Especially line 2 provides a nice sightseeing tour along the Danube River on the Pest (eastern) side, but also on the right (west/Buda) bank you can ride the tram along the river (19/41). Line 2 is actually close to being a light rail line if it wasn't for the old trams in service not only on this line, as well as the sometimes very basic stops, but otherwise it is mostly fenced off and even has an underground stop at Fövam ter, now integrated into the M4 station complex. On other lines (I didn't ride all of them) the standard was varying a lot from extremely bad track on some sections of line 1 or the northern end of line 3 to recently upgraded sections with new track and proper platforms to match new low-floor trams. As far as I have observed, these (as of now only Siemens extra-long Combinos) are only in service on lines 4/6, which run along the körut, the ring road on the Pest side. There are posters at many stops announcing the introduction of CAF Urbos trams in 2015, but I wonder if they manage to get the track into proper condition, as now even the robust Tatras have problems and need to go very slowly on some sections of line 1, for example. So, the system is in a long process of being modernised. Next-tram indicators are still rather rare and often undergoing testing. In the central area, some announcements like transfers to the Metro are also made in English. Quite unusual for such an old system, all the trams are double-ended and doors often open on the left side. On line 2 at Vigandó ter in the city centre, there was obviously no room for a southbound platform, so you step down onto the northbound track. In general, stops are quite far apart in many cases, which may give you the impression of a higher travel speed, and in fact, they do travel very fast as opposed to many new tram systems. I was surprised how the long Combinos can handle those speeds on not always perfect track. Most of the routes I have seen are on a dedicated lane or right-of-way, which is at least separated from car traffic by concrete „balls“, so cars are unlikely to invade the tram route. A bit like in Vienna, to avoid too long lines, many of them act as feeders to the metro or to other tram lines. But apparently, this approach has changed with line M4, as the surface trams lines were maintained to cater for short trips (a good idea as many M4 stations lie very deep and would require too much time to ride just between two stations).

Budapest now has four METRO lines, and they are all rather different. M1, the oldest underground railway on the European continent, is of course more of a fun ride than a real metro, but it does get busy and trains travel very frequently and make only very brief stops. With only three short carriages making a full train, their capacity is rather limited and the stations are placed at short distances. All in all, more like an underground tram than a metro.
After having been completely refurbished, line M2 now looks like a modern, recently opened line, especially as the new Alstom Metropolis trains are in service here, too. In some places, some marble walls were integrated into the otherwise complete redesign, which I think was done very well. The stations look bright, and, what I found very interesting, the often ugly dirty wall behind the track was also decorated, resulting in a much more pleasant overall look. These images mostly depict scenes from the area where the station lies.

With line M2 refurbished and despite being newer, line M3 looks like the old and dark line. No doubt, the station designs have a certain 1970s Eastern appeal, but something needs to be done to bring it up to the standard of lines M2 and M4. Maybe improved illumination would already do a lot, and maybe a similar approach can be made with the design of the wall behind the tracks. Especially as the ceilings are very low, and there is mostly a row of columns close to the platform edge, this area is very dark and unattractive. The old Moscow-type trains add to the nostalgia feeling of days gone by. The southern terminus at Köbanya-Kispest has already been refurbished and made fully accessible.

And now to the new M4. Wikipedia actually has a list of dates that had been announced in the past for its scheduled opening... Anyway, I was already quite excited when I saw some construction photos and some photos of the finished stations, and I was not disappointed when I saw them in real life. Although like almost anywhere nowadays, bare concrete is also present here, each station has received its individual style, some more interesting than others, but almost all have something to discover. But above all, the stations are very spacious, well illuminated, good signage and good ventilation. Lots of escalators as well as lifts link the different levels, as most of the stations lie rather deep. Interchanges with other modes like trams and railways, but also the other metro lines were well planned and logically laid out. I think in most cases passengers can reach tram stops without crossing any streets. What I am missing, but maybe this is in the making, is a proper logo on a pole outside the stations. Previously, the other lines had a sort of logo, different for each line and not really visible either. A new M-logo is actually used to prefix the line number, similar to the Paris Metro, and I hope they will place it in a strong colour at road intersections etc. to make it visible from the distance.

Back to the station designs, it was funny to get a certain deja-vu experience in some of them: Moricz Zsigmond körter certainly reminds me of Georg-Brauchle-Ring in Munich, the terminus at Kelenföldi with its concrete walls painted in red is also reminiscent of Munich's U2 along its eastern leg where this was a main theme, again in Munich, the entrance bubble at Bikás park is similar to that at St.-Quirin-Platz on line U1. So I wonder if the same architects were involved here. At Kelenföldi, the railway station was rebuilt together with the metro, and from a wide mezzanine which spans the entire station and connects bus terminals at either side, you can reach all the railway platforms directly, making it a perfect hub. So I guess, it was worth the wait and the line is already pretty busy. See photos of all M4 stations here. Let's hope that the once envisaged eastern extension to Bosnyak ter will follow soon.

The Alstom Metropolis trains used on lines M2 and M4 are quite o.k., maybe a bit loud, but not as much as in Warsaw. On the new line they run rather smoothly, although compared to Vienna's U-Bahn the speed is (still) modest. Apparently, they are ready for driverless operation on line M4, but for the initial period a driver is on board and operates them in ATO mode. Inside they had a pleasant temperature and all sorts of announcements, visual and accoustic.
During my stay, there were ticket inspectors at almost all metro entrances, something I did not quite understand. The cost to have at least two people at every entrance must be horrendous. At the same time you don't really catch people without tickets as you would turn back if you don't have a ticket and buy one before trying to get in. I remember that last time I was there, ticket inspectors were waiting at the end of upgoing escalators to catch people without a ticket and fine them, but now they were all placed at entrances. Can anyone explain what the intention of this is?

Today I also got the chance to ride a HEV train to Szentendre, a nice town north of Budapest (with a BKV transport museum next to the station). This line (and I guess the others are similar) reminded me of the Roslagsbana or Saltsjöbana in Stockholm. The trains must be carrying thousands of people every day, but I don't understand why these people don't deserve proper platforms. You need to take a very good step or jump to get into or off the train. Unless they plan to get new low-floor trains soon, they should do something about this. And on some sections the trains really shake too much! Hopefully they will soon connect the northern with the two southern lines, what has been planned for a long time, creating a sort of M5. In a first stage, they should at least bring the southern lines further into the city, for example to the Kalvin ter hub, where people can change to a higher capacity vehicle, whereas now, people coming on busy and long suburban trains need to continue their journey on crowded trams, which has never made sense to me. From the eastern line, people can change to M2 or several tram lines, the same with the northern line that terminates at Batthyany ter. Another option would be to convert them into a sort of tram-train using new vehicles that can also run on the urban tram tracks, most of which are on dedicated lanes anyway.


Budapest Metro & Tram at UrbanRail.Net