“This handsome man from the twentieth
Ignoring his old age and wounds
Is still ready to ride us endlessly”
B. Okudzhava “Song about the Moscow Tram”
Moscow tram turns 120 years old this year. In 1899, the first route from Brest train station (now Belorussian) towards Butyr station (now Savyolovsky) was opened. The most common Moscow public transport before the tram was the horsecar (“konka”). Due to strong lobby, large tax revenues and the fact that most central streets already had horsecars railroads, the horsecars have been competing with trams for around 15 years more before their complete elimination.
The first trams were purchased from Germany and the UK. In 1907, Russia launched its own tram production in Kolomna.
1934 had been the peak year of tram usage. Each day around 2.6 M people used it (of 4M total population). The tram routes were everywhere; they fully covered the center of Moscow, Boulevard and the Garden ring, even Red Square. The key reason of such rapid development was the speed advantage of trams to buses. Unlike trams, buses couldn’t develop a high steady speed and often broke because of extremely poor quality of Moscow roads and bridges.
In 1935, Moscow subway was launched and changed Moscow public transport dramatically. There’s a famous “Cabman song» performed by Leonid Utesov in which the cabman complains that his riders now shifted for subway and he has no one to ride (“Oh, we rode, we flew, we raced long distances with you (the horse). But the subway was born and bewitched all our passengers”.) However, that was the case for the trams also; the tram routes, which matched the route of the newly built subway lines, were dismantled. Thus, the number of trips and passengers dramatically fell. In many old pictures of Moscow you can see the tram routes that are not there anymore.
Since 1970s, trams have seen their reincarnation in many European cities once people started to get concerned about ecological transport. This has not been the case in Moscow, however, the dismantlement of the tram routes continued, especially in post-Soviet times 1990-2000, when car lines replaced the tram routes. Only in the recent few years we see the trams are gradually returned into use and the old routes are rebuilt (e.g. at Lesnaya street.)
Now, do you know, you can enjoy a great tour of the old Moscow taking the tram. That is the case for the tram route #39 which starts at Christie Prudy (Clean Ponds), rides through the old center of Moscow, Zamoskvorechie, Donskoi and St. Danilov Monasteries, Leninsky highway and then finishes not far from Moscow University. Below are some pictures of the sights you will see.
This summer we launch a special Tram tour of Moscow during which we will talk about history of Moscow public transport and sightseeings during the ride.
Also, each spring there’s a tram parade in Moscow when trams of all possible models of the 20th century are riding throughout the city. You can even take a ride on some old tram. If you’re in Moscow in March-April, we recommend you to check the date.