In preparation for the new edition of my 'Tram Atlas Schweiz & Österreich' I made a short visit to Graz on 6 April 2014 primarily to see the subsurface tram route in the railway station area. My last visit was in summer 2010, and since then not much had changed, except that the new Stadler Variobahn trams are in service after some teething problems.
Generally, the Graz tram system is a rather classic streetcar system with a high share of street-running sections, although most of the car traffic is diverted through parallel streets. Although at most stops there are platforms, these are mostly not high enough to provide proper stepfree access, not even with the low-floor trams, of which besides the newer Variobahn vehicles also Bombardier Flexity Outlook (Cityrunners) are in service. Although Graz maintains a large number of older vehicles, too, most journeys outside the peak hours are operated either with these two types or with older Duewag high-floor trams which have an added low-floor middle section.
When I was in Graz last time, several sections were out of service for track work, like line 7 to Wetzelsdorf and line 1 to Mariatrost. I was very surprised this time, that nothing much was done on line 1, which has a long single-track section with several passing loops at stops, making the overall journey with a Flexity Outlook extremely uncomfortable, as the trams switch from single-track to double-track on a badly aligned track too often. But I was told that this painful section is about to be upgraded properly this summer, with longer double-track sections and thus fewer switches which force the trams to slow down.
The necessity of the tram tunnel at Hauptbahnhof can be doubted, but now it is built anyway. But a solution similar to that realised in Linz or now being started in Augsburg would have been more convincing, i.e. with a tram tunnel right beneath the railway tracks. In Graz, the tram underpass primarily avoids a major road junction at Eggenberger Gürtel (but at the same time also eliminated a tram stop in that area). The underground stop at Hauptbahnhof, however, results in a longer walk for passengers to reach any of the trains than before, when trams stopped just outside the station. Whereas in Linz the tram stop is directly integrated into the station building, in Graz passengers need to walk across the station square and then, inside the building, go down to the subterranean passageway to reach the rail platforms. Once the trams from the city centre have stopped at Hauptbahnhof, they need to take a very tight curve to return to their original east-west alignment. All in all, the advantages for passengers are not really evident, at least not to the extent of the investment that was required to build that semi-underground diversion.
One thing I don't really like about the Graz tram network is the use of different line designations in the evenings and at weekends, when only lines 1, 5 and 7 continue to run, whereas the other legs are combined into lines 13 and 26. But at least this is clearly depicted and also explained on network maps. When these lines are in operation, trams wait for each other at Jakominiplatz to guarantee connections. But what may be ideal for transferring passengers, results in rather long waits for those passengers staying on the same tram.
A second city centre route is indeed missing in Graz. This has long been planned but this plan has not come to fruition yet. At present, all lines run along the single corridor from Hauptplatz to the major hub at Jakominiplatz along Herrengasse. The entire network may suffer disruptions in case of any disruption along this bottleneck. Trams from the southern branches can turn back at Jakominiplatz, but there are no such facilities for trams from the west or north. Trams from Hauptbahnhof run through the narrow Murgasse to reach Hauptplatz and therefore the width even for new trams is restricted to just 2.2 m, quite narrow for modern low-floor trams.
The entire tram network is within the city fare zone and any ticket for the tram is also valid on buses and regional trains (S-Bahn Steiermark) within the city boundaries. A 24-hour-ticket is available at 4.70 EUR from ticket machines.
Trams are now operated by 'Holding Graz Linien', a rather clumsy name for a transport operator, which used to be GVB (Grazer Verkehrsbetriebe). Their website is integrated into the general website dealing with services provided by the same holding (owned by the city). I would prefer a dedicated website that is easier to handle for visitors, while other services like water or garbage are mainly of interest for locals. So similar to Vienna, they should just present themselves as 'Grazer Linien', for example.
Having visited on a Sunday, I didn't manage to grab a network map, but those posted are quite nice and legible, with the trams clearly shown as something superior to buses, but I would suggest to use a better set of colours, not red (1/7), purple (3/6) and malve (4/5). By the way, riding trams in the old town is currently free, but this is just on a trial basis and may not be valid in the future.
Graz Tram at UrbanRail.Net