The Old Tramway
The Old Tramway
It is difficult to imagine the city of Lviv without its charming trams. One of the city’s great symbols, its 125-year history is intertwined with the city. From its humble beginnings with its Austro-Hungarian horse-drawn carriages to the modernization of its electric cars during the Polish Republic, from withstanding the armed foreign invasions during the Second World War to its current, modern European low-floor carriages, Lviv trams have long inspired Leopolitan lovers and artists. Immortalized in song by Lviv’s own “Pikkardiyska Tertsiya”, let’s take a look at how this Lviv institution came to be.
Humble Horse-Drawn Beginnings
By the late 1860s, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire had already launched its first horse-driven trams and Lviv City Council was deliberating its first two tramway proposals. Lviv’s first routes were opened in May 1880, making Lviv only the fourth city in the Empire with a tram. The new transportation proved popular with Leopolitans, as around 1,867,000 passengers were pulled by horse-drawn trams along two separate routes. The system was not ideal though, as the animals were forced to work several hours a day and needed maintenance and care. Moreover, they left a lot behind to clean up. By 1894, Lviv City Council recognized that the horse-drawn trams could not manage passenger flow and while steam-powered trams briefly replaced the horses, it was the advent of the electric current that brought the greatest potential for developing this means of transport.
Switching to Electric
The electric tram is the brainchild of genius engineer and inventor Werner von Siemens, as it was his company that opened the world’s first tram line between Berlin and Lichterfeld in 1881. The same company built Lviv’s electrical tram infrastructure and a 300 kW power plant to go along with it. Lviv’s electric tram line was launched in May 1894 with a dedication at Stryjsky Park and festivities that attracted many citizens. By 1908, Lviv’s trams were fully electrified.
Getting through the war
The Second World War nearly destroyed Lviv’s tram infrastructure, especially during the artillery and bombing of the Soviet assault in September 1939 and the Red Army’s seizure of the city in July 1944. While several lines needed to be closed for service, Lviv’s trams managed to roll on. The post-war years faired no easier for our lovely tramway as the Soviet annexation of the city and its subsequent policy of “population exchanges” between Poland and the Ukrainian Soviet Republic saw fully 80% of the tram’s management exiled to Poland. The city was forced to recruit railway personnel and experts from Eastern Ukraine before fully resuming transport.
The ‘Golden Years’
Lviv’s tram enjoyed its ‘Golden Years’ during the 1950s as the tram lines were updated to the trolleybus system and the network became Lviv’s main mode of public transportation. The tram played a great role in the life of Leopolitans, who used it not only to get to and from work, but also a place to make acquaintances and even fall in love. No history of Lviv would be complete without at least one amorous tale from its beloved tram. The 1970s saw some tram lines to the city centre shut down and by 1988, the first fast trams were introduced.
Ukraine’s independence in 1991 brought radical change and had a major impact on the country’s tram systems. As huge numbers of private cars and minibuses reduced the need for trams in many cities, trams all but disappeared. For example, Lviv’s trams served nearly 140 million passengers during the year of independence; yet by 2002 this figured had dropped by 60 million (almost half!). While Lviv’s trams still attracted a large amount of customers, the system faced a problem with “free rides”. It is estimated that fully 65% of the riders neglected to pay for their trips, causing a considerable burden on the finances of the company and the government of the Lviv Oblast. Luckily for Leopolitans though, our entire tram network has persevered. Could you possibly imagine Lviv without its trams?
Modernising the network
After years of planning and stalled implementation, Lviv finally launched a tramline to Sykhiv in November 2016. Thanks to the financial support of the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (EBRD) and German grants, Lviv’s large residential district to the south now has a fast connection to the city centre. Ukrainian-German company Elektrotrans – based right here in Lviv – provides the newest trams in the network, the sleek Electron model, at the cost of one million Euros a pop. Older models are purchased from Germany or refurbished by Elektrotrans. Look for these to be retrofitted with automatic payment options (to prevent those pesky freeloaders!) soon. Holders of the Lviv City Card, launched just last October, get free rides on the trams. Another step in Lviv becoming Ukraine’s most European centre.
“The Old Tramway”
The tram may no longer be the number one choice of transportation in Lviv, but it remains the quintessential way to get around the city. At 5 UAH, it remains the most cost-efficient. The Lviv tramway has remained a constant fixture in the life of Leopolitans through political and military turbulences alike for the last 125 years and remains one of the most recognizable cultural brands of the Western Ukraine capital. So if you need a break from the heat of the sun and the fumes from the cars are getting you down, take a piece of advice from “Pikkardiyska Tertsiya”, and “[Go] to where the green grass is, [on the] lucky, oh-oh-oh, old tramway.”