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Trondheim: Preparations for a new tram generation – and new tracks

Between Herlofsonlopa and Lian | © Dirk Budach

Trondheim on Norway’s west coast is home to the world’s northernmost tramway system. The Gråkallbanen line, the only remaining tram line, is 8.8 km long. After the entire system was shut down in 1988, service on the Gråkallbanen line restarted two years later by a separate operating company – something which in retrospect almost looks like a small miracle.

The main reason for the eventually positive outcome was the LHB tramcars that are still in use today. The municipal transport company had only purchased them in 1984, but could not find a second-hand buyer because of their unusual width of 2.60 m. Instead, the sale of the trams to a scrap dealer was quickly pushed forward by local politicians in 1989, but eventually stopped by a court decision. The scandal attracted a lot of media attention and finally led to the reopening of the Gråkallbanen interurban line from St. Olvas gate on the edge of the city centre to Lian. The tramway has now been operating in this way for 33 years, promoted also by a lively local tramway enthusiast scenery and the tramway museum.

© Robert Schwandl:

In the meantime, the tramcars, which were almost new at the time, have become somewhat outdated despite being in good condition, and of course they do not meet the current low-floor standard with barrier-free access. Four of them are needed for scheduled operations outside the holiday season, seven are currently operational, and another one is stored as a source for spare parts.

For a long time, local officials have been struggling to modernise the scenic interurban tramway line, and an extension through the city centre to one of the eastern or southeastern suburbs has been on the planning agenda from time to time, but it never became concrete.

This now seems to be changing, at least in part. The renewal of the tracks began some time ago, but especially the part of the lines on street-level in town between Ila and St. Olavs gate terminus is in urgent need for total refurbishment. However, construction work is currently underway. The parallel bus service, which partly uses the tracks embedded in the road surface, is certainly one of the reasons for the poor condition of the road and the tracks. The 58 double-articulated hybrid buses of the type “ExquiCity” from Van Hool, which have been in service since 2018, also operate here, serving three main lines, and partly on routes that had been served by the former municipal tram network many years ago.

Worn out tracks near Hospitalskirka, July 2023 | © Dirk Budach
Van Hool ExquiCity on part of the tramway tracks embedded in street surface | © Dirk Budach

And now, the renewal of the fleet is also envisaged. Market sounding with various manufacturers had started and resulted in expressions of interest from five potential suppliers. Now, a formal tender is being prepared. According to the current status, the public sector will provide about 56 million euros, so that a tender for up to eight new vehicles is to be launched. The time frame for commissioning is 2027-28. The Gråkallbanen, which is also very popular with tourists, should thus be secured for the long term, and perhaps one day there we will see a re-extension through the city centre which is once again on the agenda. The success of the new light rail in Bergen could certainly serve as a good example for political decision makers in Trondheim.

St. Olvas gate city terminus | © Dirk Budach
Breidablikk, on a late summer evening, July 2023 | © Dirk Budach
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