Monday, 15 July 2013


Besides the capital Riga, two rather small Latvian cities maintain modest tram systems, which I visited on my Baltic tour in July 2013 in preparation for my Tram Atlas Northern Europe, planned to be released in autumn 2013.


Liepaja is a coastal town in western Latvia, once an important Soviet military base, and now more of a seaside resort, home to some 87,000 people. The town's only line is just 7 km long, but as the urban area stretches mostly north-south, the tram can take the role of a primary axis through the town. It runs from the industrial area occupied by a metallurgical factory to the railway and bus station (there are only two passenger trains a week to Riga!), and then south towards the town centre located on the south bank of the so-called Trade Canal. The most central stop is called Kurzeme (Courland) after an adjacent shopping centre, although the square it is placed at is actually called Rožu laukums (Rose Square). It continues south and used to terminate at the central cementary until recently, when a new 1.6 km section was added at the end of May 2013 – this was in fact the first new tram line built in the Baltic States since 1984!

Liepaja's 1000-mm gauge tram line is in a relatively good shape. It is served by an almost homogenous fleet of Tatra KT4 vehicles, some original ones from Soviet times, and some second-hand trams purchased from East German cities such as Erfurt and Cottbus (inside they still display many German stickers like 'Notbremse' or 'Türöffner'). All trams are covered with full adverts, which gives each car a special identity, while it is not clear whether the tram company actually has a colour scheme in its cooperate identity. Some decorative elements at the new stops plus the website make me think that it could be green (there are also some green buses, while most other buses run in their original livery revealing they were purchased from some Swiss and other Western cities).

The new extension was, of course, a clear sign that the modest line will be maintained, and currently also upgrading of the old sections is in full swing (in summer 2013, the section between Kurzeme and Livas laukums is operated only on one track while the trackbed of the other track is completely renewed) but trams still keep running every 7-8 minutes, which I consider quite a good offer for such a small town. Most sections of the line are in fact on a dedicated sort of right-of-way, although this is not always clearly defined and cars may invade the reserved space, but generally the operation was fluid, albeit not too fast. The only sections with mixed traffic are the one across the bridge over the Trade Canal and along Ventas iela on the new section, where the roadway was raised at the Vainodes iela stop to slow down car traffic and allow better boarding. Most stops have (rather low) platforms, but at some boarding is required from street level. In any case, the platforms will still be too low for any kind of low-floor vehicles.

For a mere 1.50 LVL (approx. 2.13 EUR) one can use the tram and all buses during one day. A single ticket without transfer bought from the driver costs 0.50 LVL. Unlike other Baltic cities, which have invested a lot in the implementation of a smartcard system, Liepja maintains a German-style ticket system, i.e. you buy a book of single tickets or a day ticket at a kiosk and stamp it in the tram/bus. Tickets bought from the driver also need to be stamped!



Located in the far east of the country, Daugavpils is Latvia's second largest city, with some 100,000 inhabitants. The city is predominantly Russian-speaking (although Latvian remains the only official language), and its tram system is also typical Russian in many ways. I happened to be there on a Saturday, when the rolling stock in service was almost exclusively KTM 5 vehicles seen in many Russian cities as well. Although well-painted on the outside, they looked rather worn out and rusty inside, hoping to be replaced soon by new Belorusian trams ordered. So the future of the Daugavpils tram system seems to be secured, too. The tracks were in a rather bad state, but also here, track renewal work was going on between Ventspils iela and Saules veikals, with only one track available for operation. Line 1 was running pretty frequently for a Saturday afternoon, and even line 3 out to Stropi was quite busy with people going for a swim in the lake there. While line 1 runs every 7-8 minutes on weekdays, the other two lines have rather unusual headways, line 2 every 28! minutes and line 3 every 25 minutes, which results from the existing passing loops on the single-track sections, I suppose.


Only opened in 1946, the Daugavpils tram system features several single-track sections, notably the outer sections on lines 2 and 3. Interestingly, the stretch shared by all three lines is not in the city centre (which would be between Tirgus and Universitate), but on a section east of the bridge across the railway line. Most sections are separated from road traffic and features some kind of platform, which like in Liepaja, will not be high enough to allow proper level boarding once low-floor trams have been purchased.

While most passengers on St. Petersburg's trams, which I visited a month ago, now use a plastic smartcard to pay their fare, Daugavpils allowed me to experience a typical Russian tram conductoress selling single-trip paper tickets for 0.30 LVL (0.43 EUR).
Liepaja Tram (Official Site)
Liepaja Tram at UrbanRail.Net (incl. map)
Daugavpils Tram (Official Site)
Daugavpils Tram at UrbanRail.Net (incl. map)


  1. Many thanks, Robert, for your excellent summaries. I'm visiting the three Latvian systems next week, and had hope to ride the RVZ-6 trams in Daugavpils. You don't mention them in your report. Have they now gone? Hope not, but I'll send you an update in a few weeks.

  2. RVZ-6 are not going at weekend in Daudavpils.

    Robert, please, correkt your mistake: The tram line in Liepaya is 8,3 km long with the new part. The 7 km is not correctly now.

    1. Yaropolk,

      I'm afraid it is now only 7 km long, although official sources may say something else, but noone ever cares to check those figures. Nowadays you can do it easily with Google Earth, but even the old-fashioned way on a paper map should give you this result. It is quite normal that official numbers are inaccurate, although not so often in cities with just one line. Sometimes they add the depot tracks or whatever, although these are not very long in Liepaja anyway.

  3. Ref. Daugavpils - yes, Yaropolk - the RVZ-6's seem to only run on weekdays. I was pleased to be able to ride on a few last week. The extensive track relaying was causing severe delays to routes 1 and 3, due to a long bi-directional single-line section, controlled by traffic lights and mobile phone messages. To add to the delays, many trolley poles were becoming de-wired at the temporary cross-over at Poliklinka. There seems to be a great deal of track and overhead work to be done before the new artics can enter service. Can anyone tell me if the entire 3-route system is to be retained and upgraded?

    Ref.Liepaja - the junction of the old southern terminal at Centralkapi and the new extension seems to have been kept intact. Are there plans to use both terminii once track relaying has been completed? Finally, I was amazed at the complex manoeuvres required to enter/exit the depot, involving reversing onto part of what seems like a long spur line (an old route?) then crossing the mainline at right-angles. For a one-route system it covers everything a tram fan could ask for, except - as you say Robert - a corporate livery instead of the commercial graffiti which is now so universally prevalent.


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