Tuesday, 4 December 2007
The Tale of the Trams
With the devastating news that the 19, 41, 47 & 49 trams will all be gone by the end of 2007, I have found an article I wrote in 1998 after interview a gentleman at Budapest's Museum of Transport.
For many years, I travelled to work everyday on the 47/49, on those days when I didn't walk, because - in truth - the tram rattling and sudden jerking nearly put my spine right out and I have to admit it wasn't that pleasant being coughed on by alcoholics and homeless (who virtually live on the 47/49) at 8.30am. It's not a great start to the day.
NB. Budapest trams SHOULD always STAY YELLOW!
Confine those nasty orange German Combino-monsters to the depths of Hades. It is impossible to breathe on a Combino, how come they spend huge amounts of money and then bugger up the air-con?
NEM SZERETEK KOMBIZNI !!!
The Tale of the Trams
The yellow tram is a distinctive feature of Budapest's urban landscape.
Visitors to Budapest will undoubtedly have had a ride on the "négyes-hatos" (the 'four and six') and maybe a run-in with the terrifying "ellenôr" who whips out his red armband, causing scores of Magyar youths to suddenly decide they want to stand somewhere else, namely at the other end of the narrow yellow metal snake that winds its way through Budapest streets.
Trams play a vital role in the city's transport system, "Without the four-six tram, Budapest would die," said Miklós Merczi, a research worker at the Transport Museum in Városliget.
This role was recognized 111 years ago, when the first tram line from Nyugati station to Király utca was inaugurated.
"Its operation makes less noise, it's easier and safer to stop quickly than other trains, and it does not pollute the streets, does not produce smoke and does not induce sparks either," said the record of the event.
The "négyes-hatos" no longer bumps and grinds its way around the nagy körút but since the renewal of the tracks in 1994/7, it glides like an Olympic ice-skater.
The "négyes-hatos" is the perfect sightseeing ride for visitors, although like the No. 2 tram, it is plagued with pickpocket gangs in the summer.
These gangs target those who obviously look like tourists or who look too eagerly at the stunning view- difficult to avoid on Margit híd or the Pest embankment.
The view can be seen when "négyes-hatos" circles from Moszkva tér across Margit híd, revealing Parliament, the Castle, the Liberation monument, the Chain Bridge all in one panoramic swoop.
Then the tram traverses the vast arc of the nagy körút with Nyugati, Oktogon, Blaha Lujza tér, Rákóczi tér, Boráros tér, across Petôfi híd.
From there, the six half of the eternal tram pair goes on to Móricz Zsigmond körtér, where you can complete the circle by taking the No. 61 tram back to Moszkva tér, along Villányi út past the bottomless lake.
At present, 30 tram lines operate in Budapest on working days, with 762 tram cars transporting approximately 370 million passengers a year on the 155km long network..
The environmentally-friendly tram was first introduced in Budapest in 1887. The first public trams in the world were introduced only six years earlier in 1881, near Berlin.
"In fact, Budapest was the first city in the world with a permanent town central tram system," said Merczi.
Before electric trams, horses pulled the carriages along the tracks, through Budapest.
Pest's first horse drawn tramway car, which departed from outside the Lutheran church in Deák tér on 30 July 1866, was the third of its kind in Europe.
It connected the two termini at Szénapiac ('haymarket'- today Kálvin tér) and the shipyards of the First Pest-Fiume Shipbuilding Co. in outer Újpest, with stops at the National Museum, the Café Zrínyi (now Astoria), Saint Stephen's Basilica and The Railway Station (today Nyugati-western station).
The horse tramway's first terminus building, the "Hunter's Manor" by the Northern Railway Bridge survives to this day.
The Szénapiac -Újpest line was built by the Pest Street Railway Company, a firm established by Sándor Károlyi & Co., the same entrepreneurs who constructed the Városliget (City Park) and Kôbánya lines two years later, in 1868.
At first, the horse tramway only had single track lines with passing places, but by 1870, traffic had become so busy that parallel tracks had to be built.
At the same time the company opened its Rákospalota route and another running to the Municipal Slaughter House.
In Buda, entrepreneur József Szekrényessy took out a license in 1852 to build a tramway line between the Császár Baths and Zugliget, but the route was not actually constructed until another contractor, the Buda Street Company, realized the project.
This route had several steep rises, where an auxiliary team of horses was needed.
"Over are the days of the battles which cost us so many broken necks, sprained wrists, flattened feet, fractured noses and ribs, battles only fought by those reckless enough to brave the dangers involved in forcefully occupying an omnibus seat," wrote the periodical Magyarország és a nagyvilág, reporting the opening of the new tram line.
The other Buda line, also opened in 1868, connected the Buda side of the Lánchíd and Óbuda's main square.
It was the last horse tramway line to be built in Buda.
Margit Bridge, opened in 1876, provided a connection between the Pest and Buda networks and made changing trams possible.
There were often heated disputes over whether the Pest or the Buda company's cars should cross the bridge and enter the other's territory.
These were only settled when the richer Pest Street Railway Company bought up its Buda counterparts.
The new company was named the Budapest Street Railway Company.
There was a setback during the depression of 1873, but by 1890, the number of journeys by horse tramway had reached 18 million a year.
Initially a first class ticket between Kálvin tér and Újpest cost twenty krajcárs, while a third class ticket cost ten krajcárs (this amount could buy three eggs).
In the 1890's the idea arose that a new street railway equipped with engine -drawn carriages should be installed in Budapest.
The first electric tramway in Budapest ran between Nyugati Station and Király utca and was opened on 28 November 1887.
"Budapest's first tramway had a narrow track and the electric current was supplied from below, since the authorities said overhead lines were too ugly," said Merczi.
Similarly to the system used in today's metro, there was a third rail underneath one of the rails on the which the cars actually ran and this was connected to the 300 volt DC power supply, insulated inside a porcelain holders.
"This device made travel rather unreliable, as mud or snow could get into the power line, upsetting traffic for half a day," said Merczi.
Prompted by the success of the experiment, entrepreneurs decided to build the Podmaniczky utca and Stáció (today Baross ) utca routes as electric tram lines in 1888, even though these were first designed for steam engines.
The route was owned by the first Budapest City Railway Company (BVVV). Its former headquarters in Akácfa utca today houses the head office of the Budapest Public Transport Authority (BKV).
The first central electric generator can still be seen in the courtyard. In 1890 the Budapest electric tramway system had 4.5 million passengers while horse-drawn trams carried 18 million. The builders of the tram system made many masterly technological and architectural innovations.
One of these was the track mounted on iron supports and viaducts, which was built along the promenade on the Pest embankment.
During the period of idyllic peace before the first world war, Budapest experienced rapid growth and became a real metropolis.
Overcrowded trains with "full" signs crawled along with clusters of passengers, hanging on to the bars by the steps.
Writer Andor Gábor wrote the following cabaret song, supposedly sung by a passenger on giving up his soul as he was squashed flat in a tram car.
Two hundred were there in the tram
I couldn't move them with a ram
Pushed and shoved thus in keen fever
Having with me no steel lever
So sighed a man in pain and sore
Your knee in me a hole will bore
Revenge he took with no more sigh
And broke my leg bone in the thigh
I knew not how to heavens cry
Jesus my Lord shall I here die?
The total length of all the tracks in the network had reached 175.5 kilometers by the end of the First World War and the number of passengers carried annually exceeded 300 million.
"Tram routes in those days were always incredibly long, it was quite usual for a journey from terminus to terminus to take well over an hour," saidMerczi.
Under government supervision, all companies were centrally controlled for a while even after a decree to nationalize them, passed by the Revolutionary Government Council on 31 October 1918 was annulled on 10 August 1919.
To improve the deteriorating conditions the Budapest Capital City Transport Co. was formed - known by its Hungarian acronym BSZKRT, pronounced "besscart."
The second World War saw an even greater damage to the transport system than had been experienced in 1914-18.
However, the first post-war tram running between Forgách utca and the Újpest water tower, started very soon , on 7 February, just a few days before the city was liberated from the German occupation.
On 20 August 1946, the first tram links (routes 48, 49 and 63) were reconstructed between the two sides of the river Danube across the reconstructed Szabadság híd. The tracks stretched for 490 km.
The poet László Benjámin wrote about the tram system in his poem
From Vadaskerti út to Kálvin tér
First on the 56
Then on the 63
and on and on
Doesn't bother me
Fare dodging has been a custom in Budapest, ever since the first trams appeared.
This custom has even left a trace in the language.
The slang term to describe the activity is 'tujázni' from 'hátulja' meaning its rear, or to travel on the tram's rear.
'Tujázni' now means to go by tram and a 'tuja' is an affectionate slang word for a tram.
During the period 1945-1967, people were far-dodging so regularly that the takings of the conductors slumped so it became necessary to simplify the fare system and abolish transfer tickets.
The Budapest Transport Company BKV, founded in 1968, has increased its fares by 2500 percent over the past ten years.
Throughout the world, there are not a lot of real tram cities.
There are cities that have streetcar service, but only a few in which trams are essential, where they are a part of the character of the city.
On the European mainland, Merczi said, "More than one hundred towns have tram services." In pre-Trianon Hungary, more than 20 Hungarian towns had tram services - Sopron, Szombathely, Nyíregyháza, and also Timesoara, Kosice and Zagreb. Nowadays, only four towns in Hungary use trams, Budapest, Miskolc, Debrecen and Szeged.
In Central Europe, three real tram cities are the ones that were the largest settlements of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy: Vienna, Prague and Budapest.
Tram cities have a special atmosphere, because trams are special, and give a sense of rattling through history, taking part in a journey through time with others, witnessing mini-dramas and participating in life, rather than just sitting, isolated in a metal box getting road rage.
Trams themselves defy definition, they are different from buses, as they go on rails. They are different from trains and subways, as they go on the streets.
To travel the tram is a unique feeling; in some ways you are in the flow of traffic and in others you are out of it.
A famous Hungarian poet wrote of the feeling of traveling on streetcars:
O streetcars your yellow
Makes my heart mellow.
From your current collectors sparks fly
With them my soul rises high.
On you let me take a ride,
My spiritual guide.
The trams of Budapest are usually yellow, as is obvious from the poem, but they were not always so.
The yellow color of the Budapest trams had to vie for predominance for a long time with the brown of competing cars, as there were times when tram color or flags enabled passengers to tell one of the innumerable tram company's lines from another's.
Trams run by the Budapest Street Railway Company were brown, patterned ones belonged to BUR Railway Company.
Yellow, although not the same shade as today, was the color of trams owned by the Budapest City Electric Railway Company. "Historians now argue as to whether certain trams were Bordeaux-colored or bottle green, since the only photographic record we have is obviously in black and white," said Merczi.
These days, there are some exceptions to the yellow BKV color.
One of these is the famous pink Barbie-tram, covered by advertisements for the doll, which ran through Budapest in the early nineties, attracting a lot of attention.
Technical University students once persuaded all the passengers to get off at the stop in front of their dormitory and cry out loud: "We all love you Barbie!"
There is now a blue Pepsi tram which chugs slowly along the Danube river bank on the Pest side, on the No. 2 route.
Most trams run in Pest rather than the hilly windy streets of Buda - exceptions - the 56, 61,59, 17.
"The steepest tram route is the number 59 up to Farkasréti cemetery. If it gets any steeper you have to use a cog-wheel railway, like the train that runs up to Szechényi hegy," said Merczi.
He explained that trams are not suitable for the treacherous bends of Buda roads.
The streetcars in Budapest come in four types, although as late as 1980, there were 20 types of tram car.
Type One is the oldest and the dearest to the true tram-lover's heart. It is a Hungarian make, known as a U-V. It is quite slow, very noisy and a bit uncomfortable.
The relays are constantly clicking, and the middle carriages have wooden seats and wooden paneling.
The 'pót kocsi' - auxiliary coach in the middle of the three on the 47,49 route, starting from the middle of the city at Deák tér, and crossing the Szabadság Bridge, is the last surviving example of a much older, fourth type of car.
The middle car "shakes like inhumane danger" said Merczi.
The 19 is another favorite, running by the Danube on the Buda side. It is a good tram for showing visitors a view of Pest, and also fun is the switchback effect when the tram rattles under the Chain Bridge and spins around the corner, dipping down into the curved tunnel, filled with wild techno-acid graffiti.
Line 17 running up to Old Buda gives a bit of the feeling of the heroic age of streetcars. It goes on small streets and some stops have no safety islands.
Sometimes, it has only one carriage and rattles off into the night like a ghost train.
Line 17 tram cars have mostly been renovated, and now feature plastic and material upholstery.
If you long for solitude, try the night tram 49E at around 3am, when you can be alone in the coach running in the cold night.
For a glimpse into infinity, get on line 50 which runs in a straight line, without a bend for kilometers.
The design of the cars also changed much before today's enclosed shape, typified by the Type Two -"négyes-hatos" style evolved.
This style tram was nicknamed the "Stuka" as the engine gave the same whining sound as dive bombers of that name.
Type Two is the pride of the Hungarian transport industry.
Built by the Ganz factory it is known as the 'Ganz csuklós' or articulated. This type was introduced in 1968.
In the rush hour the "négyes-hatos" is packed like a box of sardines.
In the summer, the atmosphere can get quite pungent as the commuters proudly display their sweaty armpits whilst clinging onto the straps.
Some of the cars on the No 2 and No 17 lines have been renovated with wide spaces for push chairs, and buttons to press to announce intention to descend.
The No. 2 has a dot display to announce coming stations and a mysterious recorded voice that announces the connecting lines.
Moszkva tér is the greatest tram junction of the city, with six lines meeting there: numbers 61, 59, 18, 4, 6, 56. The square is not for the faint hearted or the weak-chested as the air quality is one of the worst in town.
However this is not the fault of the environmentally friendly tram -there are at least ten smelly bus routes terminating here or passing through.
Type Three is the newest, the Czechoslovakian Tatra T5 C5. It is used on lines, amongst others: 1, 18, 61, 28, 36, 59 and 56. Until the recent introduction of Prague's new trams, these represented the state-of-the-art in tram technology.
There are 320 trams of this sort in Budapest.
These trams are fast, relatively quiet and the tone of their ring to announce door shutting has a very annoying nasal quality. Tram purists look down on these types.
The only exception is maybe line 56, which goes out to the Buda Hills and in summer takes on a holiday atmosphere as it is full of people going for a picnic in the woods.
In 2002, a new breed of trams arrived from Germany, bought half-price in Hannover, and a very orange series of trams run on route 69 from Mexikói út.
However Budapest residents like their trams yellow.
In November 2003, Budapest Transport Company (BKV-Budapesti Kőzlekedési Vállalat) conducted an Internet survey in which people could vote on the interior and exterior of the new Siemens tram to be introduced in 2006 running along the Nagykörút (Great Boulevard) on the famous “négyes-hatos” (the “four and six”) route.
The internet survey was posted for a week and 12,000 people logged on to state their opinion with 37% in favour of the traditional yellow colour and simple design.
The Nagykörút is one of the busiest thoroughfares in Europe and the 53-meter-long Siemens Combino trams, purchased for 37 billion forints, are the longest on the Continent.
The German company designed these new style trams especially for Budapest.
BKV posted 13 versions of the prospective tram design on the Internet and Hungarians were asked to vote on their favourites.
Most of the votes for the traditional yellow tram came from women, aged over 45 and living on the Buda side. Internet users could also vote on the interior design of the trams with the majority choosing the green seating as the preferred choice.
Although, with the building of the fourth metro line, many tram routes will be discontinued, the future of the tram is still assured.
"We have come the end of the backward trend of closing tram lines, factories are just waiting to build new trams, all we need is more investment," said Merczi.
Although slightly lagging behind city development, the tram network will be extended with several new lines in the future.
A direct tram connection will be established to Káposztásmegyer, the line extension of tram No. 1 will be continued, and the connection of tram lines No. 13 and 62 at the Örs vezér tere terminus will effectively establish the external tram line ring around Budapest.
Then, two tram lines will run rings around Budapest, making any region of town accessible on a pleasant, civilized and environmentally friendly form of transport.