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The future of electric public transport in Kaliningrad

Kaliningrad, Ploschtschad Pobedy, today the only rote 5 with Tatra KT4SU, August 2002 | © Bernhard Kußmagk

After the massive destruction of the former German provincial capital Königsberg of East Prussia during World War II and the subsequent handover of the territory to the Soviet Union in 1945, the new government also started to reinstate the public transport operations in what was then and now the city of Kaliningrad. While the single, short-lived trolleybus line (opened in 1943) was not reinstated, the metre-gauge tramway was slowly rebuilt, although not to its full degree before the war. It was based on a horse tramway which had started operations in 1881 and was progressively electrified between 1895 and 1901. Königsberg’s tram network reached its greatest geographical expansion in 1937 with 15 routes and a total length of 102 km.

The tramway after 1945

After the war, some of the remaining German tramway cars, mostly built by the local manufacturer Steinfurt were refurbished and provided the initial services. Capacity problems continued well into the 1960s although large series of LOWA and Gotha 2-axle tramcars and trailers from Eastern Germany were supplied between 1954 and 1966. In 1971, the delivery of Tatra trams from Czechoslovakia began, initially with 4-axle Tatra T4SU and between 1987 and 1990 with the articulated Tatra KT4SU. During the 1990s, Kaliningrad – now part of Russia – purchased additional Tatra T4 and KT4 from German systems in Cottbus and Halle, and in 1995 two second-hand DÜWAG of 1963 vintage arrived from Mannheim.

Tatra T4SU on the now closed line 8 in March 1999 | © Günter H. Köhler / Bildsammlung VDVA
Abandond Gotha trailer in the depot in March 1999 | © Günter H. Köhler / Bildsammlung VDVA
The depot in Marchrz 1999 with both ex-Mannheimer DÜWG GT6 | © Günter H. Köhler / Bildsammlung VDVA

The tramway network as reconstructed and rebuilt after the war remained largely intact toward the end of the millenial with 10 routes operating at that time. However, in 1999 the process of reducing the tram network was initiated and the tramway fell out of favor of the local politicians, mainly due to the need for heavy investments in the infrastructure and the aging fleet. Consequently, four routes were closed until 2007. This process continued until 2010 when only routes 1, 3 and 5 remained up and running, and the closure of the entire system was not unlikely in the medium term. However, as a result of long-lasting (and still unfinished) political discussions, the modernization of the remaining network was considered as an option, and some track renewals actually took place. A single, modern low-floor vehicle was purchased from Polish manufacturer PESA in 2012, although not followed by any other new tramcar acquisitions. Progress in upgrading the tramway’s infrastructure led to the closure of routes 1 and 3 by 2015, thus leaving just one single route 5 in operation, although some additional route kilometers of track remain idle and might be used at a later point in time once refurbishment is carried out. 24 Tatra KT4 and the single PESA provide the service, along with some works cars and one of the DÜWAG ex Mannheim used as a party tram.

A network map of Kaliningrad’s tram you may find here: http://urbanrail.net/eu/ru/kaliningrad/kaliningrad.htm

Picture gallery (click to open):
The trolleybus

Today, the electric transport system is just a shadow of what it used to be a few years ago. This is also true for the trolleybus system to some extent. Trolleybuses were introduced (again) in 1975 and the network gradually expanded to 7 routes. However, in 2012 only four of them were still in service, and today the trolleybus system comprises only three, partially overlapping lines numbered 1, 2, and 7.

Although the fleet has been modernized, the latest additions occured in 2013 and there are still 18 high-floor vehicles in the fleet, which is composed of:

9 Trolza-5275.05 Optima, built in 2006

18 ZiU-682G-016.04, built in 2009

6 VMZ-5298.01 “Vanguard”, built in 2013

12 BKM 420030, built in 2012

Picture gallery (click to open):

Similar to other ex-Soviet Union cities, the problems of the public transport operations in Kaliningrad today are the direct consequence of the recent past: After years of neglect, the system was in desperate need for investments in the 1990s, which – because of a lack of funds – led to a rapid deterioraion of the infrastructure and the rolling stock. In addition, an equally rapid increase in individual traffic by means of private cars as well as a fierce competition with new and private minibus operators took its toll. However and fortunately the importance of a vital public transport systems was recognized in most places in recent years, including in Kaliningrad.

The city government conducted a survey among its citizens if they were rather in favor of maintaining the tramway and/or the trolleybus systems or whether they should be substituted by a large fleet of battery-electric buses. The final result has not been published yet, however, preliminary results of part of the votes indicated a preference to maintain the existing systems. The trolleybus sytem is currently in a somewhat better condition with a more modern fleet roster and an ongoing renewal of components of the overhead lines. Nevertheless, there were rumours that the public administration would favor a revival of the tramway system at the expense of abandoning the trolleybus lines altogether. No official statement has been announced yet. Whatever the result may be, let’s hope for a rapid revival of all guided electric transport in this city.

Düwag “Partytram” 443 ex Mannheim on a special service in 2013 | © Thomas Fischer / https://blickpunktstrab.net/
KT4D no. 611 ex Cottbus | © Christoph Stoss
Königsberg’s tramway history:
Königsberg, Kaiser-Wilhelm-Platz, in the 1930s | © Collection Axel Reuther
Kaiser-Wilhelm-Platz | © Collection Axel Reuther
Königsberg Nordbahnhof in the 1930s | © Collection Axel Reuther
Terminus of line 2 in the late 1930s | © Peter Boehm / collection Axel Reuther
Roßgärter Markt | © Collection Axel Reuther
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[…] picture shows trams in Berlin (for illustrative purposes). Speaking of trams, the Kaliningrad tramway was electrified between 1895 and 1901 but the tram network was short-lived due to decaying […]