Meeting reports

BIRMINGHAM   08 February 2014    Mike Ballinger entertained the joint meeting of Societies with tramway and light rail interests with a well illustrated presentation entitled “Around Switzerland but not in it”. This was a record of the systems visited during the autumn 2013 Tour organised by Ian Longworth. A coach load of enthusiasts was taken to a series of tramways in France, northern Italy and Trieste, before turning north through Italy and Germany and catching the ferry taking them back home.

The first city visited was DIJON which was a most attractive city served by two routes served by modern trams running along tree lined streets. Then it was south into Italy and the city of TURIN. There have been cut backs in recent years but two routes have now been modernised.   We saw trams of different ages running through the attractive old city. MILAN is the largest city of northern Italy and remains a major manufacturing centre.    Light railways operated to the lakes and mountains to the north and some have been reconstructed as light railways served by trams/LRVs. We saw views of many different types of tram including Jumbo trams from the 1970s, articulated two segment trams rebuilt from older vehicles,  new Ansaldo trams, and new Eurotrams  Some historic museum vehicles were seen out of their depot to be viewed by the visitors.  There is a cable-worked “Metro” taking people to an hotel and a proper heavy metro and the Passant, a new heavy rail route passing right across the city centre and linking together many suburban routes.   This note only touches on the variety of trams seen.  Milan is clearly worth a long visit!

Next the party visited a series of tramways in cities across north east Italy starting at BERGAMO with its attractive modern 5-segment LRVs. Next we saw views of the third rail light railway running to the north and east passing under the city centre in a tunnel.   In PADUA there is a long north-south route operating a system similar to that which failed in Caen, France.  A single rail acts as a guide for the tram-like vehicle which operates on rubber tyres. In VENEZIA  MESTRE A similar system is used on a long line that runs through the suburbs in the north before turning to the east.   A brand new light railway is being built across the causeway to the island city. In nearby TRIESTE the long roughly north-south metre gauge route with a funicular section near one end is being rebuilt. The trams date fom 1942 and some attractive double deck heritage trams are stored/dumped at the depot. The tramway at  COLLABO comprises three conventional routes and two separate segments is served by a modern tram fleet in a most attractive deep red livery.    There are fine preserved trams at the depot. The former rack railway to Bolzano is now closed.

The coach now took the party into Austria and the expanding system around INNSBRUCK. We saw a series of views taken along recent extensions and the fleet of new 5-segment trams in a bright red livery.  Continuing around Switzerland the party next visited the system in DARMSTADT, Germany. There is a long north-south route, another to the north with a branch heading west.  There are two short lines into the south east suburbs. Services are given by articulated three section trams which surprisingly also haul a separate trailer tram. The livery is unusual with much of the body white, orange along a mid-body section enclosing the windows, and with light blue as a band at the bottom of the body and over the roof.

Finally, now well on the way to the ferry home the party visited the shambles that is CHARLEROI. A light metro has been under construction for decades with a complex tangle of routes on reserved rights of way around the city centre. There is a major route running to the west replacing a former light rail route that operated along narrow routes through a string of villages.  The expensive replacement metro is mostly on an elevated structure some distance north of the former tramway and generally in the middle of nowhere so consequently carries little traffic.   One branch south of the city centre has been opened recently but another route, completed over 30 years ago, has never seen regular service and a once a year trip to confirm ownership of the route is all that is run.  A long conventional street tramway had to kept in service because it serves the depot. Empty cars were the only use made of a line running through a number of well populated industrial suburbs for many years. However common sense has at last prevailed and a regular passenger service has been restored to this route.  Then it was back home for this group of eager travellers.    As always Mike’s photographs were excellent and gave a good impression of a series of interesting systems that are now served by modern tram fleets.

BIRMINGHAM    On 7 March 2015 members heard and saw an interesting presentation by  Dr. Chris Thornburn entitled   “Switzerland Past and Present”.     This was based on a large number of photographs taken by himself during a school trip to Switzerland in 1951, and again in 2013 when he made a return visit to the same places after a gap of 62 years.    These photographs were supplemented by other taken by the late Arthur Spencer in 1957 plus a few by other people and some commercial postcards showing scenes from as early as 1904.      We saw how during the 62 years between his visits all the old street tramway stock had been renewed,  and most of the heavy rail trains as well.    The only means of transport from the 1950s to remain in routine service were a handful of beautiful Lake Steamers.   Chris covered most areas of Switzerland apart from the north east and it was a joy to see both the old and newer trams, locomotives, and passenger coaches as they were and are in regular use..

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