Thursday, 13 June 2013

TALLINN Tram & Trolleybus

Staying in Helsinki for a few days to explore the different urban rail systems, I took one day off (12 June 2013) to hop across the Baltic Sea to Tallinn, only an hour and 40 minutes on a Linda Line catamaran ferry (82 km). But this was not just a leisure trip, but also real work, as Tallinn and the other Baltic cities will also be included in my forthcoming 'Tram Atlas Northern Europe' scheduled to be published in autumn 2013.
    The Estonian capital (with about half a million inhabitants) has both a tram and a trolleybus network. Together with normal buses, these can be used with the same ticket, a day pass is just 3 euros, but you need to buy a smartcard for 2 euros (theoretically there is a place somewhere, where you could hand this smartcard in and they would give you the 2 euros back). For local residents, public transport has been free since the beginning of 2013, but visitors still need to pay. The smartcards are available at kiosks. I didn't see a customers office anywhere, not even inside the underground Viru bus station. I managed to get a good geographical map with all lines and in English at the Tourist Office. So Tallinn now has a very modern electronic fare system, which must have cost a significant amount of money to implement, but now with hardly anyone requiring to pay a real fare, the system was probably a big waste of money, which could have been spent elsewhere. What I don't like when look at the overall system, and this happens in many Eastern cities, that the same line number is used for trams, trolleybuses and normal buses. This could lead to confusion, especially when for some reason a trolleybus fails and is replaced by a diesel bus. And most Western European tourists don't even know what a trolleybus is. For Tallinn it would be quite easy to use no. 1-9 for trams, 10-19 for trolleybuses and 20+ for diesel buses without going into excessively long 3-digit numbers. Local trains are not included in the urban fare, but although electrified, the suburban service is rather limited anyway.

The tram system is operated with an almost homogenous fleet, all Tatra KT4's (some extended with a low-floor middle section to make them KT6's), but what appears to be homogenous is a rather diverse selection of more or less the same model built for many different cities, both in the Soviet Union and in East Germany, and some have even served in different cities before ending up in Tallinn. So, for Tatra-lovers, a real paradise. Some carry the local blue/white livery, some carry adverts, but some still carry the livery they had when they left Erfurt in Germany, i.e. red/white. I guess the Soviet model can most easily be distinguished from the German by their larger top windows (in Germany these are always rather small because otherwise babies or kids might fall out of the window....). All trams I have been on are in quite an acceptable state and although the lines are rather short, they get busy most of the time.
   What makes riding trams in Tallinn rather unpleasant is the poor state of the track on most sections. The route towards Ülemiste was rebuilt some years ago between Paberi and Lubja, so that's quite o.k., although the ride is hard, all other sections are pretty bumpy and urgently require a complete overhaul. This was annouced for the rest of tracks served by line 4 as this line is supposed to take the new CAF low-floor trams on order.

   The system is also far from modern standards when it comes to tram stops, as most of them (except those on the upgraded section mentioned before) actually require boarding from street level, even the busiest stops in the city centre like at Viru where passengers even have to cross two road lanes to reach the trams. There are no traffic lights to hold back car traffic, instead the trams wait or slow down to make their stop coincide with a red traffic light. Local people are probably used to that, but as Tallinn has developed into a busy tourist destination, these deficiencies should be solved as soon as possible. Many visitors come from or via Helsinki, and in Helsinki all tram stops have proper platforms. The situation is slightly better on the Kopli leg as this route was initially built as a kind of light railway anyway. It is also quite surprising that no stop has been established in the inbound direction on the long section of the Kadriorg branch between J. Poska and Tallinna Ülikool, despite the fact that the tram runs along the curbside and lots of new housing has appeared (I don't know what the area was like before, maybe a factory).

One positive thing I would like to point out as a heritage of the Soviet times, is the habit of announcing the following stop along with the current one.

Riding trolleybuses is therefore more enjoyable than riding trams. Most trolleybuses are new Solaris Trollino buses, both single and articulated ones, and it seems that more has been done to road than to track maintenance. 

All in all, now that Tallinn has decided to keep the tram system by upgrading the first section and ordering new rolling stock, a lot of investment is required to actually convert it into a modern tramway, plus extending the existing lines and finally building the eastern route to Lasnamäe, for which a right-of-way of several kilometers was left along the dual-carriageway called Laagna tee (from some bridges even staircases were built down to the median).




  1. > I guess the Soviet model can most easily be distinguished from the German by their larger top windows (in Germany these are always rather small because otherwise babies or kids might fall out of the window....).

    Robert, is this some kind of joke about babies falling out of the windows? :-) If not, I am seriously worried about Germans...

    1. Not a real joke, I'm afraid, there is a general exaggerated sense of security in many things in Germany, and apparently this was so during Communist times when these trams were delivered from CKD Prague to many East German tram cities. Nowadays there aren't even any sliding windows on trams, buses or U-Bahn trains, just those you can sort of tilt open which makes it even difficult to throw out things.

  2. Robert!

    I have been spending the summer in Tallinn and have been trying make sense, too, of its transportation issues.

    The tram system is indeed, Lilliputian, in many ways. Puffed up, as it were from actually being just 2 lines to a semi-fictional 4 lines, of which the Kopli-Ulemiste line has the greatest length and greater frequency.

    But even there, the Ulemiste line was never extended to serve either the eponymous major shopping mall nor, of course, the airport.

    The suburban train system that _isn't_, replete with all new conforming stations without a semblance of a frequency. More significantly, other than an accidental proximate location at Tondi, there are no interchange stations between any of the modalities.

    As you alluded to at Virukeskus, the central bus station that isn't, there is no official ticket office and incredibly. no system map posted. You have to walk to the Hobujamma tram stop to find a map!

    Some of the buses terminate at Virukeskus but others terminate at Estonia. Then there's bus 36 which loops around the Viru tram junction without stopping at either of the main bus termini.

    You really have to be a local to understand the system here!

    They have plenty of modern bendy buses but some bureaucrat decided that Tallinn does not need air conditioned public transportation, unlike modern day Germany. The buses, especially, become saunas here with the sun shining and +20 degrees.

    The most glaring omission in the system is the complete lack of public transportation within the Old Town, notably the upper part, Toompea. The locals think it would be impossible. They haven't been to Prague!

  3. There IS bus and tram system map, at least WAS, when I needed it last time - which was a bit more than a year ago. But it is probably on the same place as before. It is not very well-designed and user-friendly, though.


Tell us your experience of this transport system!